Jail for woman who cheated 22 victims of nearly $700,000 in Ponzi scheme

SINGAPORE - A woman who ran a Ponzi scheme cheated 22 victims between 2016 and 2018, causing them to lose nearly $700,000 in total.

Jaya Rethinasamy Ghandhi's victims had given her money believing she had the capacity to deliver to them airline tickets and foreign exchange currencies.

At the time of the offences, the 54-year-old Singaporean did not have the licences to run a travel agency or a money-changing business.

On Wednesday (Nov 17), Jaya was sentenced to 25 months and five weeks' jail. She was also fined $5,000.

She had earlier pleaded guilty to 20 charges including 16 counts of cheating. Another 158 charges were considered during sentencing.

Jaya's troubles started in 2014, after she took a $300,000 loan from a credit company on behalf of one Shobagunasekharan and gave the money to the individual's boyfriend.

But he made off with the sum and Jaya found herself in financial difficulties.

She did not renew the licence for My Travel and Tours, a travel agency she started in 2013, and after the licence expired in December 2014, she wound up the business.

She then tapped her experience in the travel business to pay off her debts, but ended up duping her victims.

Jaya sold airline tickets on the condition that the tickets would not be issued immediately.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tay Jia En told the court: "Instead, the accused would give them a deadline when she would issue the tickets, which would usually be around three weeks before the flight."

She would use the time to check with travel agencies online and capitalise on her knowledge of good deals from travel agencies via group fare rates.

After that, Jaya would inform the customers of the agreed price and ask them to make payment to her bank account.

She also told her family and friends that she could change the local currency to some foreign currencies at favourable rates but each transaction involved a "lock-in period".

DPP Tay said: "She would use the money received from the interested parties to honour the airline ticket transactions for the airline tickets offences, as well as other foreign currency exchange arrangements she had with other interested parties which were earlier in time."

But from November 2016 onwards, she could not honour the foreign exchange transactions.

The airline ticket arrangements also fell apart after she mismanaged the time-limit for some of the ticket transactions.

Police started their investigations in July 2017 after receiving reports from people who said that they had been scammed.

While being investigated, Jaya continued her ruse.

"The accused admitted that her business model of concurrently operating her airline ticket business and engaging in foreign currency exchange transactions was not profitable, and not sustainable in the long run.

"The accused admitted that each time she made a deal with the victims, she knew that she had no means to honour the deals without making a loss," said the DPP.

To date, she has made a partial restitution of $45,600.

Jaya's bail was set at $30,000 on Wednesday and she was ordered to surrender herself at the State Courts on Dec 29 to begin serving her sentence.

For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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