UPDATE: Robert Riley Saunders pocketed nearly $500,000 from fraud | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: Robert Riley Saunders pocketed nearly $500,000 from fraud

Robert Riley Saunders is entering guilty pleas in Kelowna court.
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
Original Publication Date September 27, 2021 - 11:41 AM

Robert Riley Saunders, the disgraced fraudulent social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, had authority to issue cheques for emergency use and monthly support funds to two dozen high-risk Indigenous children and pocketed all of it — nearly $500,000 over seven years.

In a B.C. Supreme Court hearing today, Saunders faced 13 charges, mostly for fraud, but pleaded guilty to just three charges — breach of trust, fraud and forgery.

He will be sentenced in March 2022, but Crown prosecutor Heather Magnin told the court some of the basic facts, many of which were already known.

Saunders admitted that he forged a degree from the University of Manitoba to get his job at the Ministry. Regardless of the forgery, he was still considered to be an agent of the ministry and breached the trust afforded to him.

While he pleaded guilty to just one count of fraud, the Crown said a seven-day hearing next March will set out impacts to each of his fraud victims as factors that should earn him a steeper jail sentence.

Justice Paul Riley heard that Saunders was an assistant supervisor assigned to a team dealing with roughly 60 high-risk Indigenous youth in Kelowna. Many of those youth were under an independent living scheme and Saunders was officially their guardian with the same responsibilities as a parent.

He also had ministry authority to approve his own emergency funds for his wards as well as rent and living cheques, most of which would have barely covered room and board.

As guardian, he set up joint bank accounts with each of the 24 youth, but as soon as the money was deposited, he took it, leaving the children to fend for themselves with nothing but occasional approvals for individual purchases. Over the seven years, that amounted to 850 cheques of roughly $550.

$468,000 went through their joint accounts and $350,000 of that went straight into Saunders’ own personal bank account while the rest was taken in cash withdrawals, Magnin said.

“With limited exceptions, none of these funds was provided to the youth, all of the funds were misappropriated by Mr. Saunders for his personal enrichment,” she said.

He tried to cover his tracks by falsifying documents and forging the youths’ signatures, but the fraud was eventually discovered by accident in 2017 by his supervisor who noted discrepancies in his paperwork.

He once again tried to cover-up his crimes.

Saunders has pleaded guilty, but his lawyer, Bryan Fitzpatrick, said he will dispute the Crown’s efforts to prove the fraud caused actual deprivation to the youth identified in the indictment. That hearing is set for March 21, 2022.

Many, but not all of these details, were exposed in a civil suit. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Children and Family Development settled a class-action lawsuit, which alleged that “Saunders defrauded many children in the care of the Ministry of their food, clothing and shelter allowances.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones or call 250-718-2724 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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