Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz pulled off flight, ordered to stay in Brazil

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Two American swimmers who were with teammate Ryan Lochte the night of an alleged robbery were taken off a U.S.-bound flight Wednesday night and will not be allowed to leave Brazil until they provide testimony about the events of Sunday night.

Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were heading home to the United States when authorities stopped them from leaving Wednesday. Authorities are still seeking answers about how they got robbed Sunday morning.

Attorney Sergio Viegas said Conger and Bentz have left the Rio de Janeiro airport for an unspecified location in Brazil and have yet to testify. The swimmers did not speak to reporters upon leaving the airport and getting shuttled away in a black car waiting outside.

The athletes said they were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi as they returned to the athletes village from a party, several hours after the last Olympic swimming events were held. Police have found little evidence so far to support their accounts.

Conger and Bentz were brought off their plane after a Brazilian judge earlier Wednesday ordered the passports of Lochte and another U.S. teammate, Jimmy Feigen, be seized, confining them to the country as authorities investigate their robbery allegations, though Lochte says he has returned to the U.S.

"Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained Wednesday night shortly before their flight was scheduled to depart from Rio," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. "They were released by local authorities with the understanding that they would continue their discussions about the incident on Thursday. James Feigen is also communicating with local authorities and intends to make further statements regarding the incident on Thursday as well. We will continue to provide updated information as it is appropriate."

Brazilian officials who addressed the media early Thursday morning at the airport said they are holding the passports of Conger and Bentz.

Representatives from the U.S. consulate arrived at the airport shortly after the swimmers were held.Consulate spokesman David Fogelson told reporters he could not add any details.

Feigen, who was also present during the alleged robbery, remained in Brazil on Wednesday and told USA Today Sports he was "just trying to give Brazil what they need or what they want and get out of here."

"It's a hassle," Feigen said. "But I'm safe, everything's fine. Until this goes in a direction where I can see it, I can't comment."

NBC spoke with Lochte Wednesday night and reported that Lochte said he had left Rio and already returned home as originally scheduled.

Lochte backtracked on his initial comments to the network made Sunday, saying the barrel of the gun he had said was placed to his forehead was instead pointed in his direction. He also now says the taxi wasn't pulled over but that the swimmers were robbed after making a stop at a gas station.

Lochte said when he was interviewed by police about the incident that no one had suggested he needed to stay in Brazil nor had any officials expressed doubts over his account of the robbery, NBC reported.

The police interview was very friendly and casual, and much less intense than one he went through with police in the U.S. when he reported a home burglary, he said.

According to The Daily Mail, a prosecutor said the swimmers did not seem shaken and were even playing around in surveillance video when they returned to the Olympic village. The four were also said to have made contradictory statements to police, The Daily Mail reported.

Steve Bentz, father of Gunnar Bentz, when reached by phone late Wednesday night, said: "I really don't want to say anything,'' and hung up.

Lochte's father had told The Associated Press by phone that his gold-medal-winning son called him after arriving back in the United States and told him he was going to pick up his car and buy a new wallet to replace the one that he said was stolen during the robbery.

"I'm just happy he's safe," Steve Lochte said. "It was an unfortunate experience for him and the other three. I don't know what all the controversy is. They were basically taken out of the taxi and robbed. The main thing is he's very lucky that he's safe and that all they got was his cash and wallet."

Associated Press reporters waiting outside Lochte's home in North Carolina did not see the 12-time medalist. Lochte's attorney, Jeff Ostrow, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The office of Judge Keyla Blank confirmed the order to seize the swimmers' passports in a statement Wednesday.

The USOC said police went to the athletes village Wednesday morning to try to collect the passports, but the swim team had already moved out. Sandusky declined to say whether Lochte and Feigen were still in the country.

"As part of our standard security protocol, we do not make athlete travel plans public and therefore cannot confirm the athletes' current location," Sandusky said. "We will continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities."

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Wednesday encouraging those involved to cooperate with Brazilian law enforcement.

The four U.S. swimmers say they were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi Sunday morning as they returned to the athletes village from a party, several hours after the last Olympic swimming events were held.

Police say they have found little evidence to support their accounts and say the swimmers were unable to provide key details in police interviews.

"Why would anybody fabricate anything?" Steve Lochte said. "It's just ridiculous."

A police official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that police cannot find their taxi driver or witnesses to the robbery. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Ostrow, Lochte's attorney, has said there is no question the robbery happened.

"My opinion is they are trying to use Ryan's situation to use as a scapegoat to show that things down there are not as bad as it looks," Ostrow told ESPN on Wednesday. "These types of things have happened with other people, like the New Zealand athlete, but they don't take half the interest they do with Ryan.

"If they don't like the level of the detail that they've gotten from the statement ... then call me and we can give them more. Ryan is the victim here. You take one of the Brazilian authorities and put a gun to their head on a random street in America in the middle of the night and I guarantee they wouldn't be absolutely accurate with all the details.

"They can do and say whatever they want down there. The fact remains they were robbed at gunpoint."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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