Social service worker pocketed $340k from community fund and splurged on branded goods, expensive pampering sessions and holidays

Amir Hussain
The Straits Times
December 10, 2016

While needy families were deprived of money meant for them, Chia Kwang Hwee, 33, splurged on luxuries, including spending more than $5,000 on goods from Louis Vuitton boutiques.

For nearly three years, the social service worker pocketed more than $340,000 from the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare). He was entrusted with the cash to help the less fortunate.

Chia was generous with himself and his relatives, spending $110,000 on expensive spa and hair salon packages, pricey meals, holidays and branded goods.

He also used about $130,000 to settle debts owed by him and his relatives, and gave family members about $100,000 in cash as gifts.

Yesterday, Chia was convicted of his crimes after he pleaded guilty to 19 charges: two each for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and transferring criminal proceeds, and 15 for accessing a computer to commit criminal breach of trust.

Another 107 similar counts will be considered in sentencing.

The prosecution has asked for six years' jail, while Chia's lawyer asked for not more than 21/2 years' jail. District Judge Lee Poh Choo will deliver the sentence on Dec 22.

The $343,780 that Chia pilfered from November 2011 to August 2014 was meant for 42 low-income and needy individuals and families.

Between June 2009 and June 2013, Chia was a manager at the South East Community Development Council (South East CDC) and from July 2013, a manager at the Social Service Office (SSO) in Geylang Serai. At both workplaces, he was responsible for disbursing ComCare monies.

Between Jan 1, 2012, and Dec 31, 2013, Chia collectedabout 300 cheques for $197,060, issued by South East CDC or Geylang Serai SSO on behalf of beneficiaries.

Instead of handing them to the beneficiaries, he encashed the cheques and deposited the money into his bank account.

The cheques had been made out to "cash" as the beneficiaries who were supposed to receive them did not have bank accounts.

In November 2012, while at South East CDC, Chia also took on the role of team leader and was granted access rights to a computer system used to administer ComCare funds to beneficiaries.

He also had system administrator rights and could also reset the passwords of other account users.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, while at Geylang Serai SSO, Chia entered his bank account details into the system instead of the beneficiaries'.

He also misused his administrator rights to reset the passwords of 15 social service officers' accounts, and then used his colleagues' accounts to approve and transfer $67,100 in beneficiaries' payouts into his own account.

In a press statement sent out immediately after Chia was charged on Aug 3 this year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said it was contacted by a beneficiary who said he had not been getting his payouts.

Chia was suspended from his duties on Aug 19, 2014, after his crimes were discovered. Police seized 21 branded items worth nearly $30,000 from his home. He had bought them with criminal proceeds.

The Straits Times

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