SINGAPORE - A real estate agent, who was under investigation over a series of rental scams perpetrated in 2017, was out on bail when he continued his cheating spree until 2019.
Ramanathan Sujithran duped nearly 200 foreign nationals of $308,815 in total.
He was working for PropNex Realty before he was terminated in July 2017 and deregistered as a real estate salesperson.
Despite this, the Singaporean continued to cheat his victims by using his own real estate firm, TSR Logistics.
Ramanathan, now 54, was sentenced on Monday (Aug 22) to 4 ½ years' jail after he pleaded guilty to 11 charges including multiple counts of cheating.
They involved 71 victims who were cheated of $138,365 in total. Ninety-seven other charges, including those linked to the remaining amount, were considered during sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Louis Ngia and Ong Xin Jie stated in court documents: "Rental scams do not simply occasion monetary loss to their victims but often cause much anguish and uncertainty, as they threaten a very basic and fundamental human need (such as) a roof over one's head."
To attract his victims, Ramanathan would claim in advertisements that certain units were available for rent in Singapore, the court heard.
When prospective tenants responded to the advertisements, he would enter into tenancy agreements with them.
The prosecutors added: "At all times, the accused knew that he was in no position to satisfy the tenancy agreements that he had entered into, and that he would not be renting out the units to... the (prospective tenants) for the periods listed in the tenancy agreements."
Despite this, Ramanathan would ask them to pay him a sum of money as "deposit" to confirm the rental. On or around the moving-in date, he would give repeated excuses to the prospective tenants that they were not allowed to move into the unit yet.
The tenancy agreement would later be cancelled, with Ramanathan pocketing the "deposits" for his own use.
In one instance, he stated in an advertisement in May 2017 that a residential unit in Hougang Avenue 7 was available for rent. Investigations later revealed this unit was offered for rent without the homeowner's knowledge.
The owner had instead engaged Ramanathan's services as a property agent to rent out only the master bedroom of the unit.
Three prospective tenants, all Indian nationals, responded to the advertisement and entered an agreement with him to rent the whole unit.
Ramanathan cheated the trio of $1,400 each, and none of them was able to move into the unit.
The court heard that he had used a similar method to cheat his other victims.
Out of the total amount taken from all his victims, only about $29,000 was returned to some of them.
For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.