A former Ministry of Children and Family Development social worker accused of stealing from dozens of youth in his care finally had his day in court.
On Monday, Robert Riley Saunders pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and using a forged document.
He originally faced 13 criminal charges, including 10 counts of fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust by a public officer but when guilty pleas are entered in advance of a trial, Crown tends to reduce charges facing the accused.
While Monday’s guilty plea marks a significant shift in the case, it doesn’t mean there is complete clarity on the accusations against Saunders, nor has his penalty been laid out.
The BC Prosecution Service said in a statement that March 21 to 29, 2022 has been set aside for a Gardiner Hearing, which is held when the parties cannot agree on all of the facts relating to the charge. Once that is finished, the sentencing judge will make findings of fact on those disputed matters, and then a sentencing hearing will be scheduled.
Dozens of civil cases in which Saunders was accused of defrauding children in ministry, however, reached a conclusion last year. A multi-million-dollar settlement for Saunders’ victims was reached with the B.C. government and approved by Justice Alan Ross of the Supreme Court of B.C. on Oct. 23, 2020.
The civil suits claimed Saunders would open joint bank accounts with the youth in his care, and then withdraw government money meant to be used for their care for his own use. According to Monday’s court appearance Saunders allegedly stole up to $500,000 over the years, and many youths in his care claim his actions left them homeless and susceptible to exploitation of varying kinds as well as drug addiction.
Saunders was arrested and charged in December 2020 but has been out on bail since.