Former social worker Robert Riley Saunders pleaded guilty to three out of 13 criminal charges in a Kelowna courtroom, on Monday morning, Sept. 27.
Saunders pleaded guilty to stealing from and harming at-risk youth in his care, forging a university diploma and breaching trust as a public official.
Saunders is accused of stealing money from at-risk youth in his care, many of whom are Indigenous. The Crown alleged that Saunders set up joint bank accounts for many of the youth in his care, which he used to steal funds from the Ministry of Children and Family Development that were meant for their food and shelter.
He 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.
The pleas come after 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. It also comes after the resolution of a class-action lawsuit last year. 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 addiction.
The B.C. Supreme Court approved a settlement on the matter in October 2020, estimated to cost the province $15 million.
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 21, 2022. Saunders, however, did not agree to some of the facts the Crown alleges and a Gardiner hearing is expected to take place to determine the validity of those facts. That hearing will also be heard in March and is expected to take place over seven days.