A 55-year-old Indian-origin woman in Singapore was sentenced to 20 weeks’ jail on Tuesday for misappropriating around SGD 35,000 from customers who had paid her for tour packages to India and Dubai that never materialised, according to a media report.
S Leelavadi, who worked as a freelance travel agent for over a decade without the requisite licence to do so, cheated at least eight victims over 19 fake trips to India and the city of Dubai, reported TODAY newspaper.
The Singaporean pleaded guilty earlier this year to one criminal breach of trust charge and two counts of practising as a travel agent without a licence from the Singapore Tourism Board.
Seven other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.
Leelavadi will not begin serving her sentence immediately as she intends to file an appeal, the report said.
The court heard that she began working as a freelance travel agent sometime in 2000, only stopping for a few months in 2004 when she joined a licensed travel agency.
When she struck out on her own, she told customers that she could book tours for them to India and Dubai. She advised them on how to travel there, where to stay and their itinerary, and gave them a quotation for their desired tour.
They would then pay her a SGD 500 deposit which she said was necessary to make the relevant bookings. She directed them to make payments in cash or through a bank transfer to her mother’s bank account.
In the months before the departure date, she would chase them for the balance payments while sending them itineraries and advising them on various aspects of their trips, such as insurance, currency exchange and local tours, the report said.
Whenever the date of departure drew close or had passed and the trips did not materialise, she would lie to the customers that her mother was hospitalised or in the intensive care unit, so that they would postpone the trip or accept a refund.
When customers pressed her for the plane tickets so they could go on their own, she would say she could not provide them. She ended up pocketing SGD 34,950 from eight victims between 2013 and 2017.
One such victim was 82-year old Muniyandi Karuppayee whom Leelavadi offered to arrange a tour to Kasi for SGD 2,400 in 2017.
On the planned date of the trip, Karuppayee packed her luggage and waited for Leelavadi to give her a lift to the airport. Leelavadi did not turn up and did not pick up the shop owner’s calls.
Two days later, she called and claimed her mother had been hospitalised. She was unable to show any proof that she had even booked flight tickets for the trip.
That same year, Leelavadi also offered to arrange a seven-day tour to Dubai for eight people. The group paid her a total of SGD 15,450.
The day before the trip, she asked them to postpone it, saying her mother had suffered a heart attack that morning. She separately told one of them that the trip had to be cancelled as she was required to attend a court hearing soon.
As of mid-last year, Leelavadi had made full restitution to her victims.
For criminal breach of trust, she could have been jailed for up to seven years or fined, or both.
For working as an unlicensed travel agent, she could have been jailed for up to two years or fined up to SGD 10,000, or both.