The owner of a defunct travel agency was threatened with imprisonment on Wednesday by Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez if she does not repay former employees for deductions made from their salaries as contributions to a pension plan, but which were never placed in any plan.

Theresa Chin, the sole director of TC Fahrenheit trading as 123 Travel, owes more than $90,000 to her former employees. Magistrate Hernandez ordered Ms. Chin to make payments of $1,600 per month until November 2019, when she will have to pay the remaining sum of about $70,000.

If she fails to do so, she will have to serve four years in prison, said Magistrate Hernandez. Ms. Chin previously entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company, and had offered to pay $250 per month – a rate that would have meant it would take more than 36 years to pay what she owes.

In July, defense attorney Keva Reid said Ms. Chin was offering to pay $500 per month. Magistrate Hernandez said that amount was still not acceptable. She said she would accept $700 a month for the next three months to give Ms. Chin time to “sort herself out.” After that, the court expected no less than $1,000 per month, the magistrate said at the time.

On Wednesday, Magistrate Hernandez said that even the $1,000 per month she referenced at the last hearing is not acceptable to her, because it would still take Ms. Chin more than 90 months to pay her debts.

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“The difficulty is that these matters are being treated as criminal matters,” she said. “It amounts to theft, and we can’t wait 90 months at the rate of $1,000 per month to pay off something that would land people in other circumstances in jail.”

Thirteen employees were affected by the unlawful use of the deductions, which started in 2009. Two employees were owed more than $24,000 each.

The matter was reported to the Department of Labour and Pensions in 2015. Ms. Reid, who was not at Wednesday’s hearing, previously told the court that the money went toward business expenses and not for Ms. Chin’s personal use.

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