Social worker accused of theft sold home a month after investigation began | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Social worker accused of theft sold home a month after investigation began

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)
November 14, 2018 - 5:30 PM

KELOWNA - A social worker accused in a civil lawsuit of ripping off youth in his care sold his house for a hefty profit shortly after his bosses say they discovered the deception.

Court and government documents indicate that Robert Riley Saunders sold his house at the Tower Ranch Golf Course on Jan. 23, 2018 for $700,000, which was $117,000 more than he bought it for in November 2015.

The sale came shortly after the Ministry of Children and Family Development says it found out about the allegations against him and began investigating. An information bulletin issued by the Ministry last week says that happened in Dec. 2017 – the month before Saunders sold his house.

According to two lawsuits filed against him, he is accused of theft and fraud by taking money earmarked for at least two of his charges in “early 2016.” 

Jason Gratl, the lawyer who filed the Vancouver lawsuit, alleges $40,000 was taken from chldren and youth over, at least, a four-year period, according to Canadian Press.

The two recent lawsuits filed against Saunders allege he took money from vulnerable clients and put it in his own bank account. One suit was filed in Vancouver as a class action. The other was filed in Kelowna Supreme Court. Both are virtually identical except that the Kelowna filing does not apply for a class action.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development released a time line last week that outlines their actions since the accusations first came to light.

“In December 2017, financial irregularities were brought to the ministry's attention,” it states. “In keeping with government policy, the matter was immediately referred to the Office of the Comptroller General.”

In January 2018 steps were taken to “ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children, youth and young adults who may have been affected,” the bulletin states, adding that the Office of the Comptroller General started its investigations the same month.

In March 2018 the Office of the Provincial Director of Child Welfare conducted a review “to ensure that appropriate services and planning were provided for affected children and young adults." The Public Guardian and Trustee was also notified in March.

The Ministry release does not name Saunders but says “the individual in question is no longer employed with the B.C. Public Service.”

Saunders is also employed by Okanagan College in Kelowna.

“I can confirm that Mr. Saunders is employed in a contract, term position at Okanagan College in Adult Special Education that began in September,” Okanagan College communications officer Allan Coyle said in an email. “He is on leave. We are aware of civil lawsuits involving Mr. Saunders. Protection of privacy laws regarding employees prevent further comment on the situation. I will assure you that we take the safety of our students very seriously and when we become alert to situations that are cause for concern, we take appropriate action."

A male youth is named in the Kelowna lawsuit and another youth was identified as a female with initials R.O. in the Vancouver filing. Both are listed as First Nations youth.

Interior Savings Financial Services Ltd. is named in the lawsuits as well as Saunders and the ministry. No statements of defence have been filed and the allegations have not been proven in court. Attempts to contact Saunders have been unsuccessful. 

The lawsuits claim that, in early 2016, Saunders moved the youths from “a stable home environment into an unstable residential or independent living arrangement in order to make the Plaintiff eligible for payment of certain financial benefits by the Ministry.

“Saunders then opened a joint bank account with the Plaintiff at Interior Savings. Saunders stole the funds deposited by the Ministry into the joint bank accounts by moving them to his own individual account at Interior Savings and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint bank account.”

Interior Savings is named in the lawsuit because, according to the filing, staff assisted Saunders in setting up “numerous” joint accounts without advising the youth of their rights.

“In part because of his repeated transactions with Interior Savings’ employees, Interior Savings knew that Saunders was a government employee with a fixed salary and that the funds entering into his personal account were irregular and that his transaction patterns were irregular,” the filing states.

It also claims the Ministry Director “was aware of previous instances of Saunders’ misconduct but failed to implement adequate supervision and controls that would have detected Saunders’ misconduct in a timely fashion.”

The Ministry release also outlines steps that have been taken to prevent similar violations from happening again.

One policy change that has been made is to require a second signature by another staff member on cheques.

Ministry staff say that, because of legal constraints, they cannot say anything more about the case than what is in the Information Bulletin.

All parties have 21 days to respond to the lawsuits, which is Nov. 27.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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