Photo of a caipirinha cocktail at a hotel bar.

Caipirinha cocktail at Porto Bay Rio International hotel.
Photo © Porto Bay Hotels and Resorts, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Last week when it came time to write my blog, I was forced to choose between two timely stories, both of which were being much discussed in Brazilian and international media.

One was about how Rio de Janeiro hotels were trying to gouge visitors planning to attend June’s U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development by raising rates exponentially and forcing visitors to pay for a minimum stay of several days.

The other was about how an American tourist in Rio supposedly tried to scam a luxury hotel in Copacabana.

Flip sides of the same coin?

Karmic kickback?

Since I eventually decided to tackle the former story first, this week I’ll take on the latter:

The protagonist of this transgressive traveler’s tale is a burly 53-year-old native of Murrieta, California who goes by the name of Robert Scott Utley. Our hero arrived in the Cidade Maravilhosa in late April and checked into one of the city’s chic-est beachfront hotels, the Porto Bay Rio International, in Copacabana.

Reportedly, Utley’s reservation was for 14 days. However, on Day 13, he called down to the reception requesting a taxi to take him to Tom Jobim International Airport. Shortly after, he arrived downstairs, wearing shorts and carrying a knapsack.

Although he didn’t check out, the fact that Utley left the hotel having racked up charges totaling R$15,000 (roughly US$7,500) led the suspicious hotel manager to contact the police. Sure enough, the law arrived at the airport just in time to find Utley about to board a Delta flight to the U.S.

According to the Folha de São Paulo, Utley was detained and later taken before a magistrate where he argued that because his credit card had been cloned, and subsequently cancelled, he wasn’t able to pay his hotel charges. However, he had every intention of settling his bill once he returned to the States. Utley also added that he was having heart problems as a result of his seven ICD implants and needed to go home immediately to receive medical treatment.

Since there is no provision under Brazilian law by which a foreign tourist can be held until trial and have his/her passport withheld, the magistrate released Utley on bail after he signed a sworn statement in which he promised to return to Brazil when summoned to appear in court. If convicted for fraud, Utley risks spending between 2 weeks and 2 months in a Brazilian jail.

However, by far the most astonishing (not to mention downright Brazilian) aspect of this case is the fact that almost, according to press reports, half of Utley’s bill – R$6,000 (US$3,000) to be exact – was spent on ordering caipirinhas, Brazil’s signature cocktail of cachaça, sugar, crushed lime and ice.

Seeing as a single caipirinha at the Porto Bay International costs R$15 (US$7.50), this means that Utley consumed a total of 400 caipirinhas.

Over 13 days, this works out to 31 cocktails a day!!!!

Hotel staff report that during his stay, Utley was seen in the company of various female friends. This might help explain such an astronomical bar bill – not to mention the strain on his poor heart.