Dental assistant continued to steal from clinic despite being given second chance

Osmond Chia
The Straits Times
Jan 4, 2022

She was given a second chance to continue working as a dental assistant after her employer caught her embezzling money, but she continued to steal from the clinic's earnings.

Charlene Ashby Clay, 24, took around $150,000 in total and used the money for her personal expenses, such as buying property in her home country, Malaysia.

On Tuesday (Jan 4), Clay pleaded guilty to three charges for offences that include criminal breach of trust. She was jailed for 16 months and two weeks.

Another four charges for offences that include cheating and falsifying accounts were taken into consideration during the sentencing.

In March 2019, dentist Hsu Wei Cheng, the owner of Dr Smile Dental Clinic in Clementi Avenue 3, was alerted to a discrepancy in the clinic's earnings.

Based on the amount of money keyed in, $44,861 was missing from the system.

Dr Hsu, 36, confronted Clay, his dental assistant from 2018 to 2019, and she admitted she embezzled the money by stealing the cash paid by patients.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lai said Clay would take the cash handed to her by the patient and key into the system that the money was paid electronically, which made it harder to verify the transaction immediately.

"Unless somebody checks the clinic's bank account where the monies collected using the Nets system are deposited into daily, the accused's act of misappropriating the cash will not be detected," he said.

Clay pleaded with Dr Hsu not to cancel her work permit. He gave her a chance and the pair agreed that $650 to $1,050 would be deducted from her monthly salary until the sum of $44,861 was paid in full.

But one year later, Dr Hsu caught signs that Clay had once again stolen money from the clinic. He asked a patient to make a payment of $200, but the patient told him she had already paid $3,700 for the entire operation.

This was against the clinic's policy to charge patients the cost of each procedure only after every visit, said DPP Lai.

Dr Hsu confronted Clay, who admitted she had continued to steal from the clinic.

This time, she had stolen $113,520 from the clinic by enticing patients to transfer the full payment for dental procedures to her via PayNow for a "discount".

She would then transfer small amounts back to the clinic's bank account as payment for the packages to avoid suspicion.

"(Clay) used the money she misappropriated on her own personal expenses, which include buying a property in Malaysia," said DPP Lai, who sought a jail term of 16 months and two weeks for Clay.

"The money she stole was substantial... Despite being caught and given a second chance, she continued under a different (mode of operations)," he said.

"The restitution (of around $12,300) was not out of guilt and remorse but more motivated out of continuing her job and not having to go home."

In her mitigation plea, Clay, who was unrepresented, asked for leniency and said she is a single mother who has a son to care for.

The Straits Times has contacted the clinic for comment.

Mr Azri Imran Tan and Mr Joshua Chow, lawyers from IRB Law who are not involved in the case, said victims of misappropriation of money can pursue a civil suit against the offender, but it can be challenging and costly to recover the stolen money if it has been spent, especially overseas.

It can be tough to determine what assets the offenders own and to get them to produce financial documents and cooperate throughout the civil proceedings, they added in response to ST queries.

Real estate overseas would require the cooperation of the foreign country to handle, said the lawyers.

The Straits Times

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