Kelowna fraudster awaits full parole hearing following review

Click to play video: 'Call for tighter regulation of B.C. social workers'
Call for tighter regulation of B.C. social workers
A social workers group is trying to get the province to agree to strengthen the regulation of their profession. They want it to be mandatory for all social workers in B.C. to be registered with the professional college. A change they believe could help protect the public from the type of fraud perpetrated by Robert Riley Saunders. Megan Turcato reports. – Jan 4, 2023

A Kelowna, B.C., fraudster who stole more than $460,000 from the Ministry of Children and Family Development in the names of vulnerable Indigenous youth has behaved ideally since gaining day parole last October.

The Parole Board of Canada, however,  isn’t so sure Robert Riley Saunders, 54, is ready for more freedom and in an April 8 review, opted to defer a decision on full parole until a hearing now scheduled for later this year.

In a document released Wednesday, the board said it carefully reviewed Saunders’s file and considered a recommendation for full parole from the Correctional Service of Canada, though it didn’t go for it.

“While there is positive progress noted, several issues are concerning to the board,” the parole board wrote in a decision addressed to Saunders.

“The extent of your fraudulent activity spans over two decades, occurred in several different aspects of your life, and you exploited the most vulnerable population through your position of trust to commit the index offence.”

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The board said it would require a panel hearing to fully examine Saunders’s full parole release plan, gain clarity on the benefit of the counselling he’s received since incarceration, and ensure his risk can be accurately assessed by the board.

“You have not demonstrated any problematic behaviour in the community on day parole, nor is there any indication that you have returned to your crime cycle and, as a consequence, your day parole-other will be extended until you can be seen by the Board for a full parole hearing,” the decision reads.

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Conditions aimed to ensure that Saunders remains on his best behaviour will remain in place during this time.

The board said since getting day parole, Saunders has been communicating regularly with and is respectful toward his parole supervisor.

He does not “deny, minimize, or justify” his criminal behaviour and is actively involved in his Correctional Plan.

Click to play video: 'Robert Riley Saunders, fraudster social worker in Kelowna gets 5 years in prison'
Robert Riley Saunders, fraudster social worker in Kelowna gets 5 years in prison

He stays busy with work, personal counselling, and volunteering, relying heavily on his sister and brother-in law, with whom he lives.

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The parole board said he has accepted responsibility for his actions, has recognized his problems, and “displayed guilt and victim empathy, with evidence indicating a low level of cognitive distortions.”

Saunders has “not displayed any high-risk behaviours on day parole that would suggest (he has) returned to (his) offence cycle.”

That said, it’s his history that gives the board pause.

Over a period of six and a half years between 2011 and 2018, Saunders was a case worker for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and opened 24 bank accounts for the young people in his care and issued over 850 ministry cheques totalling more than $460,000.

To put that into perspective, during his 2022 trial, the judge explained that Saunders’s average take-home employment income was $4,000 per month. By 2015, he doubled that through his scheme. By 2017, he had tripled his take-home income.

In the pre-sentence report, the author said Saunders used the funds to “create an identity of being rich, wishing to associate with others who enjoyed a similar lifestyle.”

That lifestyle included a very nice home, vehicles, a boat and numerous trips and vacations. While he was enjoying the spoils of his scheme, the youth in his care was struggling, as explained in the victim impact statements.

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It wasn’t until one supervisor went on leave in 2017 and another stepped in and noticed his paperwork had some unusual discrepancies that his deceptions came to light.

Saunders is a first-time federal offender serving a sentence of five years for fraud over $5,000, breach of trust by public officer, and causing a person to use a forged document.

He is  subject to victim surcharges, with a default date of July 24, 2024, a non-communication order, and a lifetime  order that prohibits authority over the property of others.

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