SINGAPORE - A former salesman of an errant Sim Lim Square retailer, whose employees schemed to cheat its walk-in customers in 2014, was jailed for 28 weeks on Tuesday (Jan 5).
Justin Chew Chee Kin, 36, pleaded guilty to two counts of engaging in a conspiracy with the boss of Gadget Terminal, Chung Choon Cheik,33, alias Gavin, to cheat two customers at the shop in September and October that year.
Chew is the first employee to be sentenced; a total of five men from the shop, including Chung, were charged with cheating in October last year.
Gadget Terminal, now defunct, was registered under Chung's wife, Ms Lim Pei Pin, but she was not involved in the running of the business.
A district court heard that Chew started working full-time for Chung in April 2014, and earned a basic pay of $1,800, plus commission on profits made by Gadget Terminal. Both men are Malaysians.
Some time later, Chung allegedly taught the salesmen at his shop to cheat its walk-in customers. The salesmen would first offer customers mobile phones at attractive prices. After initial payments had been made, employees would employ tactics to scam customers into forking out even more.
On Sept 30, 2014, Chew quoted a customer $300 for an Apple iPhone 4S mobile phone.
The customer - a 24-year-old Chinese national working in Singapore - handed Chew the money, and the salesman passed him a document to sign, saying it was for a two-year worldwide warranty.
After the customer signed on it, Chew told him he needed to pay $480 for the warranty.
Chew also threatened to fax the signed document to his office and complain to his employer if he did not cough up the money. The customer called the police.
When the police arrived, Chew told them that the customer had three options: Pay the $480 to get the mobile phone, pay no additional amount but leave the shop with a mobile phone of a lower value, or cancel the transaction and forfeit part of the sum paid as a "cancellation fee".
The customer incurred a $288 cancellation fee, and the police advised the customer to lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
On Oct 12, that year, Chew quoted another customer $380 for a Xiaomi 4 mobile phone.
The customer - a 25-year-old Chinese national studying in Singapore - handed Chew a $1,000 note, and the salesman asked him to sign for a two-year warranty.
After the customer gave his signature, Chew told him that the total cost for the phone and warranty was $980.
The customer called the police when Chew insisted that a refund was not possible.
When the police arrived, Chew insisted the customer had only three options as he had signed the document: Pay $980 for the phone and two-year warranty, pay $745 for the phone and a one-year warranty, or cancel the contract and pay a $294 cancellation fee.
The cancellation fee was reduced to $215 after some negotiation.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Muhammad Faizal urged the court to impose a stiff sentence of four months' jail per charge, and for the sentences to run consecutively.
The use of signed written agreements as a basis to demand additional payments was a serious violation of corporate integrity, he said.
Chew was also unmoved by police presence, and presented the matter as a simple contractual dispute.
The series of cheating cases at the shop had also created a "deep sense of disquiet" among the public, together with those at another errant Sim Lim Square retailer, Mobile Air.
The DPP added that the offence was a prevalent one, with Case receiving 2,000 complaints against retailers in Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza, and People's Park Centre over a three year period between 2012 and 2014.
In mitigation, Chew, who did not have a lawyer, told the court that he had bills to pay and needed to support his family.
"I humbly beg for leniency ... my family needs me," he said, crying.
District Judge Jasvender Kaur agreed with the prosecution's call for a deterrent sentence.
She told Chew: "You had no scruples in carrying out a despicable deception on unsuspecting customers."
The judge jailed Chew for 14 weeks for each charge, with both jail terms to run consecutively.
The sentence was backdated to his date of remand on Dec 18, last year.
Chew could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined per charge.
Last year, Mobile Air's boss and four staff were jailed between four and 33 months for cheating.