Former Kelowna social worker testifies he was ‘fraudulent’

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It was “fraudulent.”

That’s how Robert Riley Saunders described the way he was able to get one of the youth in his care assigned nearly $1,100 a month from the Ministry of Children and Family Development for services he never received.

Saunders, who was once employed as a social worker with the ministry despite lacking the qualifications, testified in court on Wednesday as part of his ongoing Gardiner hearing.

It’s Day 3 of the proceeding that’s held when parties can’t agree on all of the facts relating to the charge that the accused has already pleaded guilty to.

Saunders told the court “I would have authored this agreement … I guess for the purpose of misappropriating (rental funds).”

He explained that the youth was already in a different type of care and he fraudulently entered paperwork that would create a stream of income for both their rental fee and allowance, amounting to $1,158.

“That was generally the total amount of money that I was carrying out the misappropriation (of) and that number … I believe that I derived that number through some exploration of ministry policy guides for (the maximum youth could be) entitled to under an independent living agreement.”

Saunders explained that this “misappropriation,” was not a victimless crime.

The youth whose funding he siphoned was “troubled” and had a number of different foster placements.

“He had no connections with any adults in his life, no connection with his mother, and (his) father lived far away.”

The father only kept in touch through Facebook and in sporadic phone calls.

“I recognized there was a youth that was alone, spent majority time living in mentor suite by himself, playing video games, watching movies,”

That was until the youth went to Ontario to be with his father. Saunders was expected to offer more testimony on that later.

Last year, Saunders pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and using a forged document.

He originally faced 13 criminal charges, including:

  • 10 counts of fraud over $5,000; and,
  • breach of trust by a public officer

However, when guilty pleas are entered in advance of the trial, the Crown tends to reduce charges facing the accused.

There are dozens of civil cases in which Saunders was accused of defrauding children in ministry, and they reached a conclusion last year.

A multi-million-dollar settlement for Saunders’ victims was reached with the B.C. government and approved by Justice Alan Ross of the Supreme Court of B.C. on Oct. 23, 2020.

The civil suits claimed Saunders would open joint bank accounts with the youth in his care, and then withdraw government money meant to be used for their care for his own use.

Saunders allegedly stole up to $500,000 over the years, and many youths in his care claim his actions left them homeless and susceptible to exploitation and drug addiction.

Saunders was arrested and charged in December 2020, but has been out on bail since.

This article was originally sourced by www.globalnews.ca.