Robert Riley Saunders paroled over objections of Indigenous leaders | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Robert Riley Saunders paroled over objections of Indigenous leaders

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)

Disgraced former social worker Robert Riley Saunders should be out of prison by next week.

Saunders is currently serving a five-year federal prison sentence for an elaborate scheme to steal money from dangerously vulnerable youth in his care, including many Indigenous teens.

He was sentenced in December 2022 and if the math doesn’t add up, that’s because Saunders has qualified for full parole after reaching the standard two-thirds of his sentence. He will be allowed to leave prison July 14 and only return if he violates conditions on his release.

His parole was specifically opposed at a hearing by an unidentified Chief representing numerous bands and people affected by Saunders’ crimes.

“The Chief who spoke emphasized that he and the others he represents are adamantly opposed to you receiving full parole,” the Parole Board of Canada noted. “There is little faith you have changed.”

But Saunders himself has done nothing while incarcerated to warrant keeping him in prison. He was described as a model prisoner, taking advantage of programs he didn’t even need to take.

Saunders stole “at least” $462,385 from the Ministry of Children and Families and the kids the money was intended for. He used his trusted position as a social worker to open joint bank accounts for youth in his care. Then he got them emergency and other funds from the ministry — 850 different cheques intended for 24 different youth — but took all the money from the joint accounts.

He had worked for many years before beginning the fraud, and yet the entire 23-year career was itself a fraud. He faked his credentials to get his job, later telling the parole board it was to get a job with government while working at a group home. The Parole Board also revealed other motivations for the actions that ruined so many lives.

“You told the Board your credentials were never brought up again during your career; you were young and what you did was 'stupid'. You added that you were never a strong student and after being hired you were left on your own without much supervision. At times you felt nervous you would be discovered as you really had little understanding about the job and what was entailed. Your career advanced and over time your status increased, and you became a supervisor of others. You added you worked for a long time doing your job before you started into your crime cycle.”

The board also noted “at the time of your offending your marriage was in trouble, and you felt financially trapped, when you saw an opportunity, and over time it became habitual.”

“The money you stole went to towards alimony, daily expenses, vacations and child support.”

He has paid back $157,000 through the sale of assets but that’s likely all he will ever pay back.

Taxpayers, through the Ministry of Children and Families, paid a much higher financial cost. It paid out $15 million in compensation to the youth under his care to settle a class action lawsuit. None paid a higher cost for the lack of oversight in the ministry than Saunders’ direct victims themselves. They described desperate financial situations at young ages with no help

Saunders is expected to live in an unknown location with his sister, one of few family members who continue to support him. He is divorced from his wife and his children don’t speak to him, the parole board heard.

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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