SINGAPORE - A father of seven had absconded in 2015 after being sentenced to jail for six months for a string of offences, including cheating, when his wife hatched a plan to "make quick cash".
Aszrul Mohd Yusoff and his wife Husniyati Omar went on to dupe 74 homeowners and subcontractors out of more than $1.6 million in a renovation scam.
Husniyati asked a friend to set up an interior design firm on her behalf, offering cheap renovation packages with free air-conditioning units - but the company failed to honour agreements made with customers and contractors.
On Monday (May 6), 39-year-old Aszrul pleaded guilty to 18 cheating charges involving nearly $652,000. Another 115 counts of cheating linked to the remaining amount will be considered during sentencing.
Aszrul has been in jail since May 2017, serving a six-month sentence for his previous offences before being remanded.
His wife, who masterminded the scam, was jailed for seven years and nine months last September after pleading guilty to 20 cheating charges and one count of criminal breach of trust. Her offences involved nearly $1.8 million in all.
The couple's children are aged between three and 20, and defence lawyer R. Dilip Kumar told District Judge Edgar Foo that with both parents behind bars, the four youngest children are now in foster care while their older siblings are living with relatives.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Goh said Husniyati asked a friend to set up Carpentry Design Works in early 2016, knowing that contracts in such businesses frequently required substantial upfront payments.
She asked 24-year-old Christina Wong Hoi Khay to be its sole director and shareholder, as the couple were undischarged bankrupts. However, the company and its bank accounts were, at all times, managed by the couple.
Aszrul was the firm's project director while his wife was in charge of sales and securing new customers. In April 2016, they opened an office and showroom in Telok Kurau Road and another in Yishun Industrial Street 1.
A Facebook page for Carpentry was also set up and the couple enticed homeowners into hiring them.
However, the couple had no intention of honouring the agreements they made, said DPP Goh, who added: "Only partial works such as hacking, carpentry works and installation of air-conditioning units were carried out... When the victims grew anxious, as their intended deadline for the completion of the renovation works loomed, they would contact the accused who reassured the victims that the renovation works would be completed after further payments were made."
The victims, caught in a bind, frequently made additional payments. However, the renovation works set out in their agreements were still not carried out, said the DPP.
Besides homeowners, the couple also cheated their subcontractors and did not pay them for their services. The couple's offences came to light when one of them alerted the police on April 13, 2017.
On Monday, DPP Goh urged Judge Foo to sentence Aszrul to at least five years and nine months' jail, stressing that he had made no restitution.
Mr Kumar, who pleaded for a jail term of up to four and a half years, said that his client is remorseful and that his family has been "torn apart".
Aszrul will be sentenced on May 27. For each count of cheating, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
Court documents did not state whether action will be taken against Ms Wong.