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Court approves multi-million dollar settlement against B.C. social worker who defrauded teens in care

Click to play video: 'If approved, a settlement reached between the B.C. Government and former clients of a Kelowna social worker,  accused of stealing money from foster children, could cost the Province $15 million.' If approved, a settlement reached between the B.C. Government and former clients of a Kelowna social worker, accused of stealing money from foster children, could cost the Province $15 million.
WATCH: (July 2020) He's accused to stealing money from dozens of vulnerable youth over a 17 year period. Now three years after a Kelowna government social worker first made news headlines for taking advantage of the youth, , a multi-million dollar settlement agreement has been reached between the B.C. government and the alleged victims- all part of a class action lawsuit. As Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, the settlement could cost the government millions of dollars – Jul 15, 2020

A multi-million dollar settlement for the victims of a predatory former social worker in Kelowna, B.C., has been reached with the B.C. government and approved by a judge.

The settlement against Robert (Riley) Saunders was approved by Justice Alan Ross of the Supreme Court of B.C. on Oct. 23.

Saunders neglected children in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development assigned to his guardianship, the victims’ lawyer, Jason Gratl, writes on his website.

Read more: Proposed settlement worth millions in Kelowna social worker case

The social worker is accused of defrauding children in ministry care of their food, clothing and shelter allowances, leaving many of his victims destitute and homeless, Gratl said.

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“Most of the children for whom Saunders was acting as guardian were Indigenous children, and their cultural and spiritual development was ignored and neglected,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker' Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker
Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker – Dec 29, 2019

Saunders is alleged to have stolen money from 2001 until his firing in 2018.

The class was certified under the class proceedings act on July 28, 2020.

Read more: Another lawsuit launched against former Kelowna, B.C., social worker

Court documents listed the number of class-action members at 107, though two have died while another four have opted out.

The documents also said of the 107 estimated class-action members, 90 are estimated to be Indigenous or of Indigenous ancestry.

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Click to play video: 'New developments in civil case against Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from children' New developments in civil case against Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from children
New developments in civil case against Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from children – Dec 28, 2018

The terms of the settlement provide payments of $25,000 to all class members and an additional $44,000 for Indigenous children.

In addition to the basic payments, victims can apply for elevated damages for increased harms, such as homelessness ($25,000), psychological harm ($45,000), sexual exploitation ($75,000), educational delay ($20,000-$50,000), and bodily harm ($15,000).

All-encompassing, victims could receive a maximum of $250,000 as part of the settlement.

Read more: Credit union asking to be removed from court case involving alleged social worker fraud

The ministry was named as a defendant, Gratl said, because it failed to properly supervise Saunders, did not implement policies or safeguards to detect his wrongdoing and failed to notify the victims once the fraud was detected.

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Gratl says the class-action settlement does not require Saunders to pay anything personally, however the agreement allows the province the option to pursue Saunders to recover the paid-out funds.

Click to play video: 'Former B.C. social worker facing more allegations' Former B.C. social worker facing more allegations
Former B.C. social worker facing more allegations – Nov 22, 2018

The settlement agreement does not restrict Saunders from any prosecution under the Criminal Code, and the BC Prosecution Service is still assessing whether charges will be laid.

Saunders allegedly opened joint bank accounts with children and youth in ministry care and then transferred the money into his own bank account.

Read more: B.C. admits ‘vicarious liability’ for ‘fraud’ committed by Kelowna social worker

“The province admits that Saunders harmed children in the director’s care for whom he has responsibility in his capacity as a social worker and that the province is vicariously liable for the harm caused by Saunders,” reads part of the settlement agreement between the province and Saunder’s victims.

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“This harm includes neglect, misappropriation of funds and failure to plan for the children’s welfare, and, with respect to Indigenous children, failure to take steps to preserve their cultural identities.”

The deadline for applying for damages is Oct. 23, 2022.

Saunders’ whereabouts are unknown. He has not responded to any of the lawsuits filed against him.

-With files from Doyle Potenteau

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