Notorious fraudster Robert Riley Saunders attempted to defend his long-derided name Friday as his sentence hearing hit the midway point.
The disgraced former caseworker for the Kelowna branch of the Ministry of Children and Family Development previously confessed he committed fraud, siphoning potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars from the province in the names of children in his care. But on Friday, he drew a line at saying he put those young people in harm’s way.
“It’s important for me to share my side of things after five years and a number of different accusations and incorrect information that has been shared over social media and the news,” Saunders said as he veered away from the question asked of him by Crown counsel Heather Magnin and into an impromptu defence of his actions.
“I’ve acknowledged what I did. I’ve cooperated from Day 1 with the government with what I did. I pleaded guilty to fraudulent activities and the misappropriation of funds, but at no time did I put any youth in harm’s way and take money that they were entitled or intended for them.”
He told the court he created documents laying out needs for youth in his care so he could get money from the ministry that those youth were not actually entitled to. They often had other living arrangements that were meeting their needs, he added.
The documents he created were, essentially, pure fiction.
“The document is fraudulent and the numbers are fraudulent,” he said.
Magnin tried to point out that through the week, he claimed not to remember certain details pertaining to certain cases, schemes or documents. Specifically, she highlighted that Saunders testified he couldn’t remember if one of the documents used to bilk money had been signed by a client or if the signature had been forged.
In response, Saunders shifted the focus from what he described as his poorly rendered falsified documents to the people who allowed them to get processed.
“At the end of the day, it is the same document we talked about yesterday. It’s a fraudulent document,” he said.
“I can’t speak to what my supervisor was thinking or her lack of accountability to know this was a fraudulent document, but this clearly is a fraudulent document.”
Earlier, Saunders told the court that after his dismissal, he attended three forensic appointments with the Ministry of Child and Family Development legal teams, and in those three forensic audits, every file was reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.
“The ministry legal team indicated to me that every single independent living agreement was fraudulent. The numbers did not match up. The numbers were above and beyond the scope of what a youth in those circumstances would have been entitled to,” he said.
“They indicated that there were a number of different forms that were incomplete and missing about the breakdown of how the money would be allocated.”
After the audits, Saunders claimed he had a civil hearing with the B.C. government during which the same information was shared indicating that all the documents were fake.
“They were cut and pasted,” he said. “A forensic accountant went through and saw there were so many indiscretions and poor jobs of cutting and pasting, they said it was completely obvious.”
Then the process was repeated, he said.
Last year, 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.
Dozens of civil cases in which Saunders has been accused of defrauding children in ministry care reached a conclusion last year with a multimillion-dollar settlement with the B.C. government.
The lawsuits claimed he would open joint bank accounts with the youth in his care, and then withdraw the government money for his own use.
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 and drug addiction.