RIO DE JANEIRO — American swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger left Brazil Thursday night, sources told Yahoo Sports, hours after local authorities questioned them about an altercation at a gas station that resulted in police saying Ryan Lochte fabricated his story about a robbery.
Brazilian police officials said Lochte, Bentz, Conger and teammate Jimmy Feigen had a gun pointed at them by a security officer after they vandalized a gas station bathroom, but were not victims of a robbery or other violence.
The swimmers would likely have to pay a fine if they are found guilty of providing false testimony or property damage but would not face prison time, police said Thursday. NBC News said police denied local media reports that Lochte and Feigen had already been indicted for reporting a false crime. Feigen’s status is unclear.
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The group of swimmers – which included Bentz and Conger – damaged a door to a bathroom at a local gas station after arriving there in a taxi following a party early Sunday, police said. Video footage shows security confronting the swimmers. The group gave money for the broken door, and, police said, a security guard brandished a gun because he was concerned about the swimmers’ size and intoxication level.
One of the swimmers told investigators the group was not extorted and confirmed gas station employees’ version of the events, NBC reported. Conger and Bentz left the police station Thursday night.
Feigen told the San Antonio Express-News earlier Thursday that the group was robbed. Lochte also continued to maintain his story in an interview with TMZ, saying the security video doesn’t show the complete altercation because three minutes of it had been edited out.
An inebriated Lochte was involved in at least one incident over the course of the night in question, irrespective of the alleged robbery, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports. With his story being refuted by teammates, several people associated with USA Swimming are bracing for backlash against the four-time Olympian and the organization as a whole.
While Lochte has already returned to the United States, Feigen, Bentz and Conger have yet to leave the country.
The three are “cooperating with authorities and in the process of scheduling a time and place today to provide further statements to the Brazilian authorities,” USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement earlier Thursday. “All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio.”
Lochte and Feigen initially filed a police report saying the four swimmers were held up at gunpoint. That alleged incident started a firestorm and further heightened security concerns, but Brazilian officials started questioning Lochte’s account of what happened in the past few days.
Bentz and Conger were detained at the Rio de Janeiro International Airport as they were attempting to fly home. The two originally cleared customs but were removed from their flight and prevented from leaving the country. They were taken to a local police station late Wednesday and were released after a few hours with the understanding they will meet again with authorities on Thursday.
Wednesday morning, a Brazilian judge ordered Lochte and Feigen to surrender their passports as part of their investigation into the robbery claim. Lochte, however, had already returned to the United States.
Steve Bentz, Gunnar Bentz’s father, declined comment when reached by Yahoo Sports Wednesday night.
In a phone interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lochte stood by the majority of his story of what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning. He insisted he was robbed, and that a gun was pointed at him – although he backed away from his previous assertion that the gun was pressed against his forehead. Lochte told Lauer that his police interview when he filed his report was “casual” and “friendly,” and that the authorities never doubted his truthfulness.
“No [apologies] from [Lochte] or other athletes are needed,” IOC Rio Games spokesperson Mario Andrada said. “We have to understand that these kids were trying to have fun. They came here, they represent their country to the best of their ability. They train for years. They competed under gigantic pressure. I understand they’re under investigation. I can’t go much further into the details.
“But let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”
The IOC said it hasn’t seen video of the alleged altercation, nor did it know about it.
U.S. Consulate personnel were at the airport when Conger and Bentz were detained.
“Generally speaking, when a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, we immediately seek to meet with them, confirm their well-being, contact friends or family members on their behalf, and ensure they are treated fairly according to local laws,” said a U.S. State Department official, who would not specifically comment on the swimmers’ case, citing privacy concerns. “While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations.”