A disgraced former social worker did more than steal from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, a Kelowna court heard on Thursday.
“The characterization of Mr. Saunders’ fraud as merely having resulted in the ministry’s loss of funds is wholly inaccurate. The impact of Mr. Saunders’ offences extends much further,” stated Crown counsel on the final day of the Gardener Hearing for Robert Riley Saunders.
Saunders has accepted responsibility for and pleaded guilty to stealing from the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), but remains adamant that he was good at his job.
The Crown has requested that the judge rule on aggravating factors, including whether Saunders’ actions harmed the youth in his care, which will influence the severity of his sentencing.
It is not yet known what the Crown and defence will suggest as sentencing. The exact amount of misappropriated funds have not yet been released, however, Saunders agreed with the Crown’s suggestion that he stole $120,000 from MCFD in 2017 alone. In Canadian Criminal Sentencing, fraud over $5,000 is a serious offence attracting a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. In similar cases, the perpetrator received a conditional sentence of three years for fraud over $5,000. In another case, the mitigating factors impacted the range of sentencing.
Saunders admits he took efforts in his files to make it appear that the youth were in a position to receive funds, that he instead misappropriated. Saunders alleges that the high-risk youth in his care were “street-entrenched” and not entitled to the funds. He also told the court that youth that are doing “well” and living in approved foster placements are eligible for funding. Conversely, youth not wanting to live in ministry care are exempt from financial support.
Saunders stated that there was no risk or harm posed to youth by his actions, and does not believe that the youth experienced financial deprivation by not receiving the funds he misappropriated.
Crown, however, alleges “the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence is that Mr. Saunders carried out his fraudulent acts without thought or care about whether, or in what way, the actions he took to carry out his fraud might impact the youth.
The only consequence of the fraud Mr. Saunders cared about was his personal enrichment and his continued efforts to evade detection.”
Crown told the court on Thursday, that Saunders was untruthful throughout cross-examination.
“Mr. Saunders was reluctant to answer even the most straightforward questions,” said Crown counsel. “Rather than answer questions he often went off on lengthy, unrelated tangents “.
“It was apparent he knew the process of cross-examination is a game,” said Crown. “His focus was not on being truthful but on getting ahead of the next question being asked.”
Saunders pleaded guilty to three of the 13 charges he has been indicted on while working as a social worker with MCFD.