A married couple who schemed to cheat several unsuspecting victims of more than $800,000 were given stiff jail terms yesterday.
Ong Choon Lin, 67, and his wife Ng Kim Yew, 62, a Malaysian who is a Singapore permanent resident, duped nine people into believing that a spiritual master from Thailand or Tibet would write talismans for them, imbued with special powers.
Believing Ng, the victims were thus induced into paying a few hundred dollars to $38,800 for each talisman.
Yesterday, Ong, a retiree, was sentenced to four years and seven months in jail while his wife, who claims to be a fortune teller, was sentenced to five years and nine months in jail.
The couple, who each faced 38 charges, were convicted last Wednesday of 20 charges of abetment by conspiracy to cheat after a 23-day trial.
The remaining 18 charges were considered during sentencing.
The total amount involved in all the charges against Ng was $816,868, and in Ong's case, $734,068.
Ng's talisman scam dated from 2005, the court heard.
After the victims had paid Ng, they received their talismans in sealed packages.
They were told by Ng not to open them, or their talismans would lose the powers.
The couple's ruse involved recommending different types of talismans to the victims, and convincing them that the talismans could help them tide over their difficulties or bring them and their loved ones good fortune.
Ng's culpability was greater than her husband's as the prosecution said she was the "face'' of the entire scam and was the one actively promoting the deception to her followers.
Ng would tell the victims that every stroke and every word on the talismans was written and chanted over by a Thai grandmaster or Tibetan spiritual master.
It was, in fact, Ong who produced the talismans.
The couple at first denied that Ong wrote the talismans.
However, they later said Ong was the one who wrote some of the words on the talismans.
Ong said he had been helping his wife to write on the talismans for more than 10 years as she was illiterate.
Ng, on her part, denied selling the talismans, claiming she gave them away for free. The money that she received from the victims were for her spiritual and prayer services, beauty products and jewellery, she said.
District Judge Lee Poh Choo said yesterday that the couple had schemed to hoodwink Ng's followers for more than 10 years.
When the victims ran out of money to pay for the talismans, Ng arranged for them to borrow money or pawn their belongings to pay her. She did not care that she was causing them financial strain, and she exploited the trust they had in her.
Prosecutors Tay Jingxi and Charis Low submitted evidence to show that Ng frequented casinos, where she lost "more money than her income''.
The judge said she was inclined to believe that the money Ng obtained from the victims was not spent on necessities.
She added that another aggravating factor was that despite being cautioned a number of times, Ng continued to paint two female victims in a bad light.
The couple's sentences were backdated to March 1 last year.
The maximum penalty for each charge is 10 years' jail and a fine.