A Kelowna former social worker told a court that he thought he knew the amount of funds he could steal without raising red flags.
On the fourth day of the week-long Gardiner hearing, Crown began cross-examination of Robert Riley Saunders.
His former coworker testified earlier that she had noticed suspicious activity regarding his cases and investigated. It is alleged that she was the first to notice that Saunders was misappropriating funds. The coworker alleges 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 actually subject to the agreements.
Saunders said in cross-examination in court on March 24, that he acknowledged that the funds he stole did not belong to him and that his behaviour was fraudulent. He has been indicted on 13 charges of fraud, theft and breach of trust.
He pled guilty to three of the charges.
Saunders agreed to the suggestion from Crown that he had figured out multiple ways to issue funds to himself instead of the youth in his care.
In 2017 alone, Saunders agreed that he misappropriated $120,000 worth of funds that were intended for vulnerable youth. He agreed that the misappropriation of funds had been going on since 2011, and had been growing with each year.
The Crown alleges that Saunders specifically targeted high-risk youth in his scheme because he thought no one would notice the missing funds. Almost all of the youth in Saunders’ care were Indigenous.
Saunders agreed to the Crown’s suggestion that he was very opportunistic in figuring out how to get the most funds out of each of the youth in his files.
He also acknowledged that he opened joint bank accounts with 24 youth in his care for the express purpose of misappropriating government funds.
Saunders alleges that while he did misappropriate hundreds of thousands of dollars, he does not concede to the aggravating factor that he placed undue harm onto the youth. He alleges that the youth in his care were not eligible for the funds he was misappropriating because of their high-risk lifestyle. Saunders said that many of the youth were “not trustworthy” and providing the youth with the funds for independent living agreements or other services would have been irresponsible. Instead, Saunders stated that he had issued the funds to himself.
Saunders alleges that the youth were not entitled to the money. He alleges that youth received the funds that they were entitled to.
“I did my job in that regard,” he stated.
Saunders said that he made the decisions on which youth were eligible for funds based on his previous training.
Saunders is also 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.
Saunders was indicted on 13 charges in December 2020, including 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.