United States

Maryland Olympic Swimmer, Teammate Pulled Off Plane Amid Rio Robbery Report Probe

Maryland gold medalist Jack Conger and a fellow Team USA swimmer were pulled off a plane from the United States to Rio on Wednesday as Brazilian authorities investigate four swimmers' report that they were robbed, according to the United States Olympic Committee.

The move comes after a Brazilian judge issued an order to seize the passports of swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen, prohibiting the Olympians from leaving the country.

Lochte is already back in the United States. His lawyer said Wednesday he is being treated like a "pawn" by Brazilian authorities trying to get out from under the "dark cloud around these Olympics." Feigen is still in Brazil, where Lochte's attorney told NBC he is stuck.

Conger, Lochte, Feigen and Gunnar Bentz said they were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi Sunday morning as they returned to the Olympic Village from a party, several hours after the last Olympic swimming events were held.

Conger and Bentz, who were not named in the order to seize Lochte and Feigan's passports, were pulled from their flight in Rio, Lochte's attorney told NBC. Members of the USOC told The Associated Press that Brazilian authorities removed them from the plane.

Conger is a Rockville, Maryland, native who won a gold medal in the men's 4x200m freestyle relay.

"We can confirm that Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities. We are gathering further information," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement Wednesday night.

Sources told NBC Sports that Bentz and Conger were in their seats on the plane when they were removed shortly before takeoff. They are being held at the airport but are being treated well and cordially, the sources said, and authorities have indicated they don't want to hold the swimmers long but do want to know what happened during the apparent early morning robbery.

Furthermore, sources at the Rio airport told NBC News Feigen checked in online for his flight home but never arrived at the airport, where his passport would have been confiscated.

According to the warrant, issued by Judge Keyla Blac De Cnop, the pair gave conflicting accounts of the alleged armed robbery. In his deposition, Lochte told investigators the swimmers were held up by one armed robber who demanded he hand over all of his money. Lochte said he gave the alleged suspect $400.

But Feigen, in his deposition, told investigators that the group was help up by several assailants and that only one was armed, according to the warrant.

Lochte's lawyer Jeff Ostrow refuted the judge's allegations of conflicting stories between the quartet, telling NBC that he doesn't know what the other swimmers said, but "the story happened the way Ryan provided in his statement."

"That’s BS. Ryan has always maintained there were number of them. I don’t know if three or four, but a number of them. If one guy walked up to him, he probably would’ve kicked his ass," Ostrow said, noting the Brazilian police didn't speak English well.

The judge also cited inconsistencies with the athletes' demeanor upon arrival at the Olympic Village after attending a party hosted by Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira at the Casa França in Rio's upscale south zone.

"I noticed the alleged victims arrived with their physical and mental integrities unshaken, in fact, they were joking with one another," DeCnop said, citing surveillance video at the Olympic Village.

Surveillance video obtained by the Daily Mail Online Wednesday appears to show the teammates arriving at the village and forgetting to remove their belts as they go through security.

Ostrow told NBC there is no question the robbery happened as Lochte described it.

Lochte is one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers in U.S. history. He's won 12 Olympic medals over four Games, including six gold. In Rio, he won gold as a member of the 4x200 meter relay team. Feigen won gold in the 4X100 meter relay.

Local police arrived at the athletes village Wednesday morning and asked to meet with Lochte and Feigen, and to collect their passports in order to secure further testimony, according to Sandusky.

"The swim team moved out of the village after their competition ended, so we were not able to make the athletes available," Sandusky said. “Additionally, as part of our standard security protocol, we do not make athlete travel plans public and therefore cannot confirm the athletes’ current location."

He said the committee will continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities.

Ostrow said Lochte had always planned on leaving Rio after his events, and was never told by Brazilian authorities to "stick around, we want to investigate more, don’t go anywhere."

Police investigating reports that the four swimmers were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi so far have found little evidence supporting the account. The swimmers were reportedly unable to provide key details in police interviews. 

Word of the robbery initially created confusion between Olympic and U.S. officials. An International Olympic Committee spokesman at first said reports of the robbery were "absolutely not true," then reversed himself, apologized and said he was relying on initial information from the USOC that was wrong.

Attempting to explain the confusion, Lochte told USA Today that he and his teammates didn't initially tell the U.S. Olympic officials about the robbery "because we were afraid we'd get in trouble."

The incident got attention in part because of fears around street crime at the games. Athletes and visitors have been told to use caution around the Olympics. Street crime was a major concern of Olympic organizers, and Brazil deployed 85,000 soldiers and police to secure the games, twice as many as Britain used during the 2012 London Olympics.

A spokesman for the U.S. Consulate in Rio said Wednesday it was aware of the reports on the court order and encouraged "all parties to work with Brazilian law enforcement in this investigation."

"This is a complete circus, and shame on Brazilian authorities for trying to flip the script and make it sound like Ryan isn’t telling the truth," Ostrow said.

NBC's Eric Hinton contributed to this report.

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