Jail for online pimp who raked in $1m

He also had sex with underage girls before prostituting them, claiming they had to get used to the 'whole feel'

A 38-year-old online vice-ring pimp, who received nearly $2.6 million in revenue and earned over $1 million in profit over five years, was yesterday jailed for more than seven years and fined $130,000 in one of the largest cases of its kind.

He was also ordered to pay a $152,893 penalty for tax offences.

Chew Tiong Wei had earlier pleaded guilty to 28 charges, and admitted to another 73 which were considered during sentencing.

His vice ring involved at least 22 prostitutes, 11 of whom were below the age of 18 at the time of the offences. Two girls were just 15.

He also had commercial sex with the underage females before prostituting them, reasoning that they had to get used to the "whole feel" of dealing with customers, and he would give pointers and feedback.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow noted multiple aggravating factors in the case, such as the scale of Chew's illicit business, the length of time he operated it, and "the very substantial profits involved".

He said the sentence for all commercial sex cases must be heavy enough to deter operators, in the interest of public morality. And in cases where young girls are solicited, the sentence must be severe enough to adequately ensure their protection.

"We face the sad reality that some misguided minors may be quite willing to turn to prostitution to earn what appears to be easy money. What is equally sad and indeed far more reprehensible is where mature adults ... will readily draw them into the trade, be a corrupting influence to them and even become perversely enticed by their youthfulness and prey on their relative innocence," the judge said.

Chew ran his vice business from mid-2007 until December 2014. He took out newspaper advertisements to recruit "social escorts" and met interested women for interviews.

After an applicant agreed to provide sexual services, Chew would arrange for a photo shoot of her scantily-clad or in the nude, and in provocative poses. He would then put a profile on an online forum, with a price which he determined based on a discussion with her and his own assessment of her "quality". The prices ranged from $200 to $1,000.

From 2007 to 2008, Chew earned between $20,000 and $30,000 by acting as a middleman between the prostitutes and their customers, taking a 40 per cent cut of the escorts' earnings. In January 2010, due to increasing profits, he created his own website for his illicit business. Chew registered his agency, Prestige Talents Management, as a sole proprietorship providing "social escort services". He paid $12,000 to a company to set up a customised database system, based on SMS messages he sent and received, for his vice business.The system's records showed Chew received revenue of over $2.5 million between January 2010 and December 2014. His earnings were just over $1 million.

He also made obscene films of himself having sex with prostitutes in his home, without their knowledge.

He also evaded tax by under-declaring his profit for the year of assessment 2012. He declared his profit to be $40,166, when it was actually $175,779. For the next year of assessment, he declared his profit to be $20,345, when it was $160,147.

In April 2014, Chew submitted a Productivity and Innovation Credit application form for purchasing software. He declared he employed three local workers, and provided the particulars of his father, mother and wife. They were never employed by Chew, but he had made CPF contributions into their accounts. Chew later obtained a PIC cash payout of $9,000 and a PIC bonus of $15,000. The PIC is meant to help legitimate businesses make investments that boost productivity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Jail for online pimp who raked in $1m'. Print Edition | Subscribe