SINGAPORE: Over more than two years, a dental assistant pocketed about S$158,400 from patients and used part of it to buy property in Malaysia.
When she was caught, she pleaded with the dentist for a second chance, promising to pay back what she had embezzled. Instead, she devised a new way to trick patients into giving her money and misappropriated even larger sums.
Malaysian national Charlene Ashby Clay, 24, was sentenced to 16 months and two weeks' jail on Tuesday (Jan 4). She pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal breach of trust as a servant and one of transferring benefits from criminal conduct.
Another four charges were considered in sentencing.
The court heard that Clay worked as a dental assistant at the Dr Smile Dental Clinic at Block 443, Clementi Avenue 3.
She began pocketing money from the clinic in October 2018, by taking cash from patients. She would input data into the point of sale system to make it seem as though the patient had made payments in a method that could not be immediately verified, such as by NETS or credit card.
Between October 2018 and March 2019, she embezzled S$44,861 in this manner, depositing the cash into her own bank account.
In late March 2019, the clinic's accountant informed the dentist that there was a discrepancy between the amount received by the clinic and the point of sale system logs.
Clay admitted to her crimes and pleaded with the dentist not to cancel her work permit. She asked for a chance to continue working there and said she was willing to pay the dentist back, and he decided to give her a chance to redeem herself.
They agreed that Clay would have a sum of between S$650 and S$1,050 deducted from her monthly salary every month until the S$44,861 was repaid to the clinic in full.
However, Clay continued to misappropriate cash from clinic patients. Between March 2019 and March 2020, she made personal arrangements with patients to make cash payments to her amounting to S$113,520.
She used a new method to embezzle money from the clinic on top of the data alteration, by enticing patients to transfer full payments for dental packages to her personal bank account via PayNow transfers. She would offer unauthorised discounts to them if they did so, continuing to deposit the criminal proceeds into her own bank account.
When the customers went to the clinic to use their packages, Clay would transfer small sums of money back to the clinic's bank account to appear as payments and avoid arousing suspicion.
Her ruse was uncovered on Mar 30, 2020, when the dentist told a patient to pay S$200 at the clinic counter after completing a maintenance procedure on her braces.
The patient told the dentist that she had already made full payment of S$3,700 to Clay for her braces previously.
The dentist was puzzled, as the clinic's policy was to charge the patient after every visit and not to collect lump-sum payments. He confronted Clay, who admitted again to her crimes.
Clay transferred some of her ill-gotten gains to a bank account in Malaysia and spent the rest on her own personal expenses, including the purchase of a property in Malaysia.
In total, she has made restitution of S$12,348, as part of the repayment agreement she made with the dentist when she was given another chance.
Since the dentist lodged a police report in March 2020, she has not made any other restitution, the prosecutor said.
For criminal breach of trust by servant, Clay could have been jailed up to 15 years and fined.
For transferring benefits from criminal conduct, she could have been jailed up to 10 years, fined up to S$500,000, or both.