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‘I am ashamed, embarrassed’: Kelowna fraudulent social worker claims remorse

The Gardenir hearing for a fraudulent social worker has entered the second week

A fraudulent social worker is now indicating remorse for allegedly misappropriating funds of youth in his care, following a week-long Gardiner hearing in Kelowna.

Robert Riley Saunders’ cross-examination continued on March 30 for the third day.

He has already pled guilty to three of the 13 charges he has been indicted on while working as a social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“I messed up. I’m ashamed and I’m embarrassed. I’m remorseful for what I did,” said Saunders.

READ MORE: Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

READ MORE: Kelowna fraudulent social worker used ministry to misappropriate funds: Court

However, last week Saunders repeatedly alleged that he did his job as a guardianship worker very well and alleged that the youth in his care were not entitled to the funds that he was misappropriating. Saunders alleges that he was stealing from the Ministry, not from the youths themselves.

READ MORE:Kelowna ex-social worker claims youth he defrauded were not entitled to funds

The hearing is taking place, despite the guilty plea to fraud, because Saunders does not concede to all of the charges and aggravating factors that he is facing. Saunders does not agree that there was 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.

Saunders does, however, agree that the documentation that he kept on the youth, their well being and their whereabouts were misappropriated in order to ensure he could continue to receive funds on their behalf.

“Anything that I would write in a plan of care suggesting that a youth is doing well would have been manufactured as somewhat of a distraction to anybody reading,” said Saunders.

A court heard that one of Saunders’ most common schemes was creating false independent living agreements for youth. Saunders would then take the allocated funds for the living situation without the youth’s knowledge. In most cases the actual whereabouts and living arrangements of the youth was unknown, said Saunders.

Saunders explained that the profitable independent living agreement would only be approved if the youth were doing well, so he would create fraudulent notes that indicated so.

“There are many things to suggest that these are fraudulent documents,” said Saunders about forms that he had filled out during his time with the ministry.

Saunders stole up to $120,000 per year in funds from the MCFD between 2011 and 2017.

Saunders is accused of using a forged university diploma to get a job as a social worker. According to the Crown, he claimed to have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba despite having no social work credentials.

He is facing ten counts of fraud over $5,000, one count of theft over $5,000, one count of breach of trust and one count of uttering a forged document.

The suit accused Saunders of stealing the funds deposited into accounts of youth in his care, leaving them homeless and subject to abuse, as well as vulnerable to substance use disorders.

Of the 107 alleged victims of Saunders, 90 identify as Indigenous. Two are dead and four have settled in separation actions.

READ MORE: Former Kelowna social worker pleads guilty to defrauding youth in his care


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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