UPDATE: Disgraced Kelowna social worker gets five years jail | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: Disgraced Kelowna social worker gets five years jail

Robert Riley Saunders sold his house for a hefty profit after investigation started into his alleged theft from clients.
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
Original Publication Date July 25, 2022 - 10:47 AM

A disgraced social worker who stole almost half a million dollars from his vulnerable clients will spend five years in jail.

Standing in a Kelowna courtroom today, July 25, Robert Reilly Saunders was emotionless when Justice Steven Wilson handed down the sentence.

Justice Wilson said the 52-year-old had been motivated by greed and boasted about his flashy lifestyle while his vulnerable Indigenous clients suffered.

Over a period of six-and-a-half years, Saunders had opened 24 joint bank accounts for his clients and submitted more than 850 cheques. Most for under $650. He would then transfer the money to his own personal bank account and fiddle with the paperwork to cover up the fraud.

He stole $460,000.

The Justice said Saunders earned about $4,000 a month but doubled that in 2015, and by 2017 that tripled that amount.

He had a "very nice home," a boat, and led a lavish lifestyle.

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A woman sitting in the gallery, believed to be Saunders's sister, told a group of social workers also present to "wipe the smiles" off their faces when the judge announced the sentence.

Outside the courtroom, the woman was very emotional and refused to speak to the media.

The Justice said that Saunders was regretful for his actions but he was not remorseful.

Justice Wilson told the court that Saunders had argued the youth he cheated were not victims because they were not entitled to the money he stole from them and therefore could not have been deprived.

Saunders had the authority to issue cheques for emergency use and monthly support funds for his clients.

Disagreeing, the Justice said the youth were clearly the victims of the fraud.

The Justice said Saunders had preyed on the most vulnerable members of the community.

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"Mr. Saunders moral and ethical compass was as good as what he could get away with," he said. "His moral ambivalence prevented him from getting genuine insight into his behaviours until that is he got caught and must now face the consequences."

The Justice said it was impossible to access the full impact of what Saunders had done.

One former client was a homeless drug addict, working in the sex trade to support herself, while Saunders pocketed the Ministry money she was supposed to receive.

The court heard how Saunders genuinely wanted to become a social worker but had dropped out of university.

He later forged a degree from the University of Winnipeg and got a job in B.C. as a social worker. He was later transferred to Kelowna where he remained for more than a decade until his fraud was discovered and he was fired.

He worked for the Kelowna Indigenous Integrated Family Service and Guardianship Team through the Ministry for Children and Family Development. He was part of a team dealing with roughly 60 high-risk Indigenous youth.

The court heard his actions had a deep effect on his colleagues and made it harder for them to form relationships of trust with their clients.

Saunders also put partial blame on his superiors for not catching him sooner.

Saunders was originally facing 13 charges but in March pleaded guilty to fraud, breach of trust, and forging a document.

The Crown had asked for six to eight years in jail, while the defence a sentence of house arrest.

The court heard how Saunders had two adult children from a 20-year relationship but his kids were no longer talking to him.

After he was charged he'd become suicidal, and failed to get other employment.

He ended up living with his sister in Calgary and working as a landscaper.

Find past stories on Robert Reilly Saunders here.

— This story was updated at 12:14 p.m. July 25, 2022, to include more information.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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