Former social worker Saunders is in court for 13 charges of fraud, theft and breach of trust (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

Former social worker Saunders is in court for 13 charges of fraud, theft and breach of trust (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

Kelowna ex-social worker says his actions were fraudulent

It is unclear if Saunders will be incarcerated in the same facilities as youth formerly in his care

Robert Riley Saunders took the stand in court for the third day of his Gardiner hearing after he plead guilty to defrauding youth in his care in a class-action lawsuit.

Saunders has been indicted on 13 charges, however he did not agree to some of the facts the Crown alleges, and a Gardiner hearing is now taking place over five days to determine the validity of those facts.

Due to several publication bans put in place for the hearing, witnesses cannot be named.

During the court session on March 23, when Saunders was called as a witness, he was asked about an independent living form for a youth in his care.

“It is fraudulent,” he said.

“I would have authored this agreement for the purpose of misappropriating government funds,” said Saunders.

The youth in question was in a mentorship suite living arrangement, organized by the Bridge in Kelowna and was not receiving any money for an independent living agreement.

Saunders said that $1,158 was the total monthly amount of money he was carrying out for the particular youth.

A co-worker of Saunders testified earlier in the hearing, alleging that she had found multiple cheques among Saunders’ files issued for $579 twice a month labelled as funds for independent living agreements for youth that were not subject to the agreement.

She said the youth named on the cheques were incarcerated, in foster care or not living independently.

Saunders was indicted on 13 charges in December 2020, including 10 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.

The crown has asked the judge to rule on several principal issues at the completion of the Gardiner hearing. It has been requested that the judge make a ruling on aggravating factors of the case, including if the fraud had any impact against the youth in his scheme, if risk was posed to youth by Saunders’ actions, if there was actual and material risk posed to specific youth, if the youth experienced financial deprivation and if the youth did not receive the funds they were entitled to.

The crown asserts that Saunders “tailored his actions to take advantage of the circumstances of the youth.”

Saunders worked primarily with at-risk Indigenous youth.

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

READ MORE: ‘Self-centred’: Former colleague testifies against disgraced Kelowna social worker

READ MORE: Kelowna ex-social worker lived a ‘lavish life’, youth in care had ‘no proper clothes’: Court


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City of KelownaIndigenous child welfareRCMP