SINGAPORE - He promised more than 100 home owners to provide renovation works like the hacking of kitchen floors or the installation of sliding doors and cabinets.
But none of the works was carried out as Chan Chee Kuen, sole proprietor of renovation contractor CM Aluminium Windows and Door, pocketed the money he collected as deposit instead.
Chan, 49, also deceived customers into thinking that he needed more money for renovation materials.
The Singaporean cheated more than 100 victims of $247,400 in total and pleaded guilty to 29 charges, 27 of them for cheating, in court on Monday (Feb 14).
Another 81 charges will be taken into consideration during sentencing.
District Judge Janet Wang has called for reports on preventive detention and corrective training.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Phang said Chan regularly went door-to-door at Housing Board flats in 2016 to solicit business. If the occupants were interested in renovation works, he would take their orders and ask them to pay a deposit.
Chan would then subcontract the orders to a supplier, Mr Chai Kwok Chun, to carry out the renovation works.
Sometime in mid-2016, Chan became addicted to gambling and incurred heavy losses.
To mitigate his losses, which amounted to more than $100,000 by January 2017, Chan began using the deposits paid by customers to pay for his personal and gambling expenses.
He also began to collect larger deposits from customers, which meant Mr Chai received less money.
After trying in vain to collect money from Chan, Mr Chai stopped accepting subcontract renovation work from him between Feb 7 and April 21, 2017.
Despite this and knowing that he could not expect to find another supplier, Chan decided to cheat prospective customers by deceiving them into believing that he was able to provide contracting services for various kinds of renovation work.
He collected deposit amounts from his victims, such as $2,000 for the installation of a cabinet and a room door, and for miscellaneous paintwork, and $2,950 for the installation of an iron gate, room door, lockset and sliding window.
None of this work was done, as Chan cheated at least 25 victims of $38,130. From January to November 2017, at least 33 police reports were made against him.
In early 2018, Chan began consuming methamphetamine and was arrested in March for drug offences.
Upon his release from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre after a year, Chan knew he was being investigated for his cheating offences.
To avoid detection, he stayed only in short-term rental accommodation that he found online. He also resumed his renovation contracting work, hoping to earn money to repay his victims, many of whom were chasing him for repayment.
By July 2019, he realised he could not earn enough money to repay all his victims and began gambling heavily, incurring heavy losses again.
From October to November 2019, he decided to cheat three customers whom he had taken orders and collected deposits from.
He made them believe that he intended to buy additional materials for renovation works they had ordered and collected more money from them.
DPP Phang said: "In reality, the accused had no intention of purchasing any additional construction or renovation materials, and hoped simply to collect more money from them to use on gambling."
Chan was charged for his 2017 cheating offences in late 2019, and was released on bail.
At this point, Chan decided that he would no longer complete any contracting work for any of his clients and cheat all his prospective customers.
He targeted blocks selected by the HDB for the Home Improvement Program, as he knew that they would be significantly older, and their occupants would be keen to order extensive renovation works from him.
After Chan failed to attend a court session on Feb 5, 2020, a warrant of arrest was issued for him.
From Jan 1 to July 15, 2020, Chan cheated at least 81 victims of $169,510 in total.
He was arrested on July 16 in a sting operation.
In court on Monday, DPP Phang said Chan had been convicted for several cheating offences between 1990 and 2006.
Chan will be sentenced in court on March 7.
Complaints against renovation contractors spiked by almost half in 2021, rising to 1,300 from 869 in 2020, the Consumers Association of Singapore said last month.
Close to one in two of the complaints were about projects not completed on time and unsatisfactory workmanship.
The increase was due to the prolonged shortage of manpower and raw materials arising from continued Covid-19 border restrictions, and demand for home renovation in the residential property market.