Rogue contractor pleads guilty to cheating 110 people of S$247,400 in HDB renovation works
SINGAPORE: Over about three years, the owner of a renovation firm cheated 110 people of S$247,400 in refurbishment works, later targeting blocks selected by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for the Home Improvement Programme.
Chan Chee Kuen, now 49, pleaded guilty on Monday (Feb 14) to 29 charges, mostly for cheating. Another 85 charges will be considered in sentencing. He has been remanded since July 2020, after failing to show up in court and subsequently being arrested in a sting operation.
The court heard that Chan was the sole proprietor of renovation contractor CM Aluminium Windows and Door in 2016. He went door to door to solicit business from HDB residents and outsourced the renovation jobs to a supplier known as Victor after collecting deposits from the residents.
Chan did not do any of the renovations himself. He paid Victor the amount owed after the latter completed the works.
However, in mid-2016, Chan became addicted to gambling. He amassed losses of at least S$100,000 in at least six months on football betting, 4D and casino visits. He began pocketing the deposits paid to him by customers and also began over-collecting deposits.
Victor began losing money as the sums paid to him fell short of the costs he incurred.
In February 2017, Victor told Chan he would not accept any more subcontracted work from him unless he was paid. He sent Chan a letter of demand for the outstanding costs.
Despite knowing that he did not have a supplier and that he could not expect to find one, Chan continued to source for "customers".
He cheated at least 25 victims of about S$38,000 for renovation works such as cabinet and door installations, paintwork, tiling and installation of kitchen countertops.
In early 2018, he began consuming methamphetamine and was arrested for drug offences. He was admitted to a drug rehabilitation centre for a year and released in March 2019.
Knowing that the police were investigating him for the renovation cheating offences, Chan stayed in short-term rental lodging, moving around Singapore. He resumed his renovation contracting work, hoping to earn money to repay his victims who were chasing him for payment.
He realised in July 2019 that he could not earn enough to repay all his victims and began gambling again, racking up debts.
He cheated more customers thereafter, deceiving them into believing that he needed money to buy additional construction or renovation materials for the works they had ordered.
Chan was charged with cheating in December 2019 and released on bail. By January 2020, he was heavily in debt and decided he would no longer complete any contracting work for his clients.
He continued to cheat customers using the same modus operandi, collecting deposits for renovation works. This time, he targeted blocks selected by HDB for the Home Improvement Programme.
He cheated at least 81 victims of S$169,510 between January 2020 and July 2020. None of the renovation works was completed.
He failed to turn up for court in February 2020. A warrant of arrest was issued and he remained at large until he was nabbed during a sting operation in July 2020.
In total, Chan cheated 110 people of S$247,000 over renovation works between 2017 and 2020. He has made restitution of S$7,970 to 11 of these customers, and provided the promised renovation works worth S$5,760 for two customers.
The prosecution called for reports assessing Chan's suitability for corrective training and preventive detention. Corrective training is a separate regime from imprisonment, usually imposed on repeat offenders, with no early release. Preventive detention is a harsh punishment that places a recalcitrant offender in jail for seven to 20 years in order to protect the public from the offender.
The prosecutors said Chan has "a long history" of cheating and property-related convictions. He was jailed for three months in 1990 for cheating and imprisoned again in 1992. He received five years' corrective training for similar offences in 1998 and eight years' corrective training in 2006.
The lengthy periods of incarceration have not deterred Chan from reoffending extensively, said the prosecution, adding that it would be appropriate to "incarcerate him for a substantial period of time, to protect the public from the accused".
The judge called for both corrective training and preventive detention reports and adjourned sentencing to March.