SINGAPORE: A man posed as a contractor approved by the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and targeted elderly victims into signing contracts for renovations with him.
He completed some of the works, but failed to respond after some victims complained about shoddy workmanship.
When one elderly man told his neighbour to seek advice before taking up the renovation offer, the accused grew aggressive, spitting at the man and punching him.
For his crimes, 56-year-old Gary Lau was jailed for six months and fined S$2,400 on Tuesday (Dec 10).
He pleaded guilty to six charges, mostly of cheating, with another 12 charges taken into consideration.
The court heard that Lau had been in the renovation business for more than a decade since 2007, owning and co-owning two businesses named Home Patching Contractor and iHome Patching Contractor.
He typically targeted elderly HDB homeowners and claimed that he was an HDB-approved contractor, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok.
He wore a lanyard with a home-made pass bearing his photo, and knocked on the doors of 15 people.
On each visit, he would request for permission to enter the flats on the guise of inspection, before claiming that patching works were required on walls or ceilings.
He would then try to convince his targets to engage his services, insisting that the works were required and flashing stacks of invoices purportedly from other homeowners who had hired him.
Victims who agreed placed deposits or full payments in cash for the works, and Lau would issue them invoices with a term stating that deposits were non-refundable.
VICTIMS TRIED TO GET DEPOSITS BACK
Some victims later realised that Lau was not approved by HDB and tried to get their deposits back. Lau rebuffed most of them, pointing to the fine print, but made partial refunds to some victims.
"The accused did complete some of the works, but when complaints of shoddy workmanship were surfaced, he became unresponsive," said the prosecutor.
On one occasion on Mar 22 this year, Lau knocked on the door of 72-year-old Vernon Low's flat.
He flashed his pass at Mr Low, saying he was an HDB-approved contractor and was there to check the ceiling of the flat.
Mr Low noticed that Lau seemed to be hiding his identity, and told him to leave.
Lau complied, and headed for Mr Low's neighbour's flat.
ELDERLY MAN TRIES TO ADVISE NEIGHBOUR, LAU SPITS AT HIM
The neighbour, 78-year-old Tee Chiong Lam, went to Mr Low's flat and asked if HDB was performing ceiling works.
When Mr Low suggested that Mr Tee discuss the matter with his son, Lau - who was standing close to Mr Tee - became angry.
He cursed at Mr Low in Hokkien and spat at him through the closed gates of his flat, with the spittle landing on the elderly man's cheek.
As Lau tried to leave via the lift, Mr Low ran down the stairs in pursuit, catching up with him at the ground floor.
Lau swung his fist at the elderly man, who blocked the blow but fell backwards. Lau threw several punches at Mr Low, who fended most of them off, before walking away.
The police received several reports between May 2017 and April 2019, saying Lau had cheated homeowners by claiming to be an approved contractor.
Investigations showed that neither Lau nor his companies were HDB-approved contractors.
CLEAR INTEREST IN DETERRING SUCH PREDATORY BEHAVIOUR: PROSECUTOR
The prosecutor on Tuesday asked for a jail term of at least eight months and a fine, noting that Lau had targeted mostly elderly victims, with multiple cheating offences committed over a period of time.
"There is clear public interest in deterring such predatory behaviour," said the prosecutor.
Defence lawyer Solomon Asoka Kumar M J Richard asked instead for six months' jail and a fine, saying his client was truly remorseful and a first-time offender.
He said Lau has refunded the victims "as much as he could", paying back more than S$900 of the total S$1,860 sum he cheated his victims of.
He said Lau was a former Chinese national who came to Singapore about 20 years ago and wants to serve the country he has made his home.
"He wants to run a legitimate business when he comes out of prison and is not going to take on any more contract work," said the lawyer, adding that Lau was previously a computer programmer.
District Judge Eddy Tham said the quantum involved in the offences was "not that significant" and imposed a sentence closer to what the defence asked for.
For each charge of cheating, Lau could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.