ATLANTA -- Four Brazilian women sued an American fishing tour operator on Tuesday, claiming that he coerced them with alcohol, drugs and the promise of money to perform sex acts with tourists on his boat along the Amazon.
The federal complaint targets Richard Schair, who until 2009 operated the Wet-A-Line Tours. It contends he recruited the four underage Brazilians and others from an impoverished community and duped them into performing sex acts on him and his customers, who were often affluent American travelers.
Schair told The Associated Press he is innocent and that the claims originated in a "quest by a competitor to ruin me" but declined further comment.
The lawsuit in federal court in north Georgia was brought by four unnamed plaintiffs who said they were between 12 and 17 when the sex acts took place. It was filed by attorneys from Atlanta law firm King & Spalding and coordinated by Equality Now, a human rights group.
"With this lawsuit, we hope to shine a spotlight on such conduct and the real harm it does to the victims, and to get justice for the victims," said John Harbin, the attorney who filed the complaint.
Schair began operating the tours in 1998, and eventually began running weeklong trips along rivers and basin aboard his boat, the Amazon Santana. He began to actively recruit "sex tourism" customers from the U.S. to come on the tours, and many of his clients were wealthy Americans, the lawsuit said.
But the fishing expeditions gave way to wild parties that involved underage girls, drugs and sex, the complaint said. Schair sent fishing guides and other employees into the community of Autazes and a nightclub along the Amazon to recruit young girls and buy drugs. In return, it said, they were paid a "modest" sum of money.
"The girls, including the plaintiffs, were impoverished and the possibility of earning money on the boat was a significant inducement," the lawsuit said.
One of the girls said she was 12 when she was persuaded to come aboard the boat, and then forced to have sex. Another plaintiff said she refused to have sex with a passenger on the boat when she was 16, but then returned about a year later and this time was forced to use drugs and have sex.
Taina Bien-Aime, the executive director of Equality Now, said she hopes the lawsuit sends a message to suspected sex tour operators "that sex trafficking victims anywhere can bring a case against those who exploit them by pressing for damages in the U.S."