Former law firm receptionist who misappropriated over $140k jailed for one year, 11 months

SINGAPORE - A former receptionist at a law firm exploited her authority to collect payment from clients and misappropriated more than $140,000 over a period of three years.

Nurfarhah Syazwani Abdul Samat, 27, was jailed on Friday (July 23) for one year and 11 months.

She pleaded guilty earlier to a charge for criminal breach of trust - relating to $82,590 of the money she took - and a charge for forgery.

Three other charges for criminal breach of trust involving the rest of the money misappropriated, and another forgery charge were taken into consideration by District Judge Marvin Bay during sentencing.

Court documents stated that Nurfarhah worked at Kalco Law LLC from 2013 to July 31, 2019, when her employment was terminated.

Her duties included attending to walk-in clients, preparing tax invoices and collecting payment from clients for criminal cases.

Between August 2016 and July 2019, Nurfarhah engaged in a scheme to misappropriate cash paid by clients across 201 transactions.

She would pocket the cash and issue receipts to the clients, before filing carbon copies of the receipts in the case files.

Some of the receipts were from books not yet authorised for use by the law firm.

For cases where tax invoices were required to be generated, Nurfarhah would falsify invoices and add the signature of one of the firm's lawyers.

In some cases, she would amend an accurate tax invoice by removing some records of payment to conceal the money she had taken.

In others, she generated a false invoice using details of an old one from a concluded case, before changing information such as the name of the client and amount paid. She would then amend the firm's tax invoice records to reflect the change in details.

Nurfarhah handed the falsified invoices over to the firm's in-house accountant for accounting purposes.

The accountant discovered a discrepancy between her own personal copy of the firm's tax invoice records and a physical tax invoice from Nurfarhah on July 30, 2019. She then found a carbon copy of an unauthorised receipt in the case file.

Nurfarhah was unable to explain why the unauthorised receipt was used, and subsequently admitted to misappropriating money.

A day after her offences were discovered, Nurfarhah privately messaged a colleague for help in retrieving two thumb drives from her desk drawer.

The colleague notified the firm's managing director, and the thumb drives were later found to contain 25 copies of falsified tax invoices.

Court documents stated that Nurfarhah misappropriated $148,290 in total.

She admitted to using the money for personal expenses, including buying clothes and groceries.

On Friday, District Judge Bay said the harm caused to the law firm was both financial and reputational, noting that Nurfarhah had not made any restitution.

In a statement to The Straits Times, Kalco Law LLC noted that due to its safeguards, its loss was limited to a small portion of cash designated to be banked into its office account.

None of its client's monies were affected, said the law firm, adding that it has refreshed its processes "with robust checks".