SINGAPORE: A principal at a pre-school and childcare centre who embezzled about S$46,700 in enrolment and school fees was sentenced to a year's jail on Monday (Dec 2).
Cheryl Zaneta Kaur Nespal, 30, pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal breach of trust by a servant.
She was employed as a principal and supervisor at Acekidz@SG at Block 175A Yung Kuang Road, one of the company's seven such pre-school and childcare centres, which are all licensed with the Early Childhood Development Agency.
She was appointed to this role in July 2016, but began her dishonest acts a few months into the job, the court heard.
Kaur was in charge of the centre's overall operations, including daily operations, new student enrolments and management of the centre's finances.
After collecting any fees from the parents of the pupils, she was supposed to deposit them into one of the company's two bank accounts.
However, between October 2016 and July 2017, Kaur received a total of S$46,687.70 in cash from the parents of 29 students, both existing and prospective, at her Jurong branch.
The money had been paid either for enrolment, school fees, or both. However, instead of banking in the money, she used it for her own personal expenses, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min.
Her acts were uncovered when the CEO and director of Acekidz@SG came across a payment receipt bearing the company's stamp but that did not match the type issued by the company.
Further checks revealed that the child of the parent who received this receipt was not enrolled in the company's system.
When confronted, Kaur admitted to taking the money, and sent an email confessing to what she had done.
She was terminated in August 2017 and the CEO lodged a police report a month after.
The prosecution had asked for at least 13 months' jail, saying that the 10 months of offending could have gone on undetected had the CEO not noticed the irregularity.
Of the significant sum misappropriated, only S$2,000 of restitution was made this year, said the prosecutor.
There was also "abuse of her authority as principal and supervisor of the Jurong centre, where was given full reign of operations", she said.
Defence lawyer Shaneet Rai asked for a sentence that was no more than a year's jail, saying his client had been under "immense stress due to her work and personal circumstances" when she became a principal.
At the time of the offences, she was in "desperate need of money" and had "spiralling household expenses", said the lawyer.
"She has realised the folly of her actions and feels deep remorse for running afoul of the law," he said.
Kaur has multiple health issues including slipped discs, and her husband, the sole breadwinner of the family, had a heart attack earlier this year and now works only from home.
For criminal breach of trust by a servant, Kaur could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.