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Lawyer for former Kelowna caseworker argues defrauded money would not have gone to youth clients

Click to play video: 'Final submissions for sentencing hearing of disgraced former social worker' Final submissions for sentencing hearing of disgraced former social worker
Final submissions for sentencing hearing of disgraced former social worker – Mar 31, 2022

The question of whether Robert Riley Saunders‘ frauds affected the youths under his care was one of the top issues discussed on Thursday, as the former caseworker for the Ministry of Children and Family Development had his sentencing hearing come to a close.

Defence lawyer Bryan Fitzpatrick said in his final arguments that the stolen money was a case of “actual deprivation” to the provincial ministry, not to youth in Saunders’ care.

Saunders repeatedly testified that the money he took would never have gone to the youth in his care.

He wrote up fraudulent independent living contracts for young people who wouldn’t have been eligible for it. So, they didn’t personally lose out when he took that money for his own use.

Read more: ‘I messed up’: Notorious Kelowna, B.C. fraudster addresses court

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He also testified that he did all he could to ensure those young people were cared for, indicating that he was actually a caring caseworker.

Fitzpatrick told the court on Friday that the two positions were not at odds, and that Saunders was able to both steal money in their name and do what was best for them.

“The Crown has not established beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Saunders’ fraudulent scheme had any impact, whether actualized, concrete or material on the pecuniary interests on the individual youth,” Fitzpatrick said.

Crown counsel Heather Magnin Crown flatly refused to accept that characterization, deeming it “wholly inaccurate.”

She pointed out that Saunders is far from a reliable witness, particularly in this matter, when his memory faded in and out depending on the question posed to him.

He went from saying he couldn’t recall all the details of a case, but, then with prompting, offered details about how he drew up fraudulent paperwork.

READ MORE: B.C. First Nations group relieved after former B.C. social worker arrested, charged

She pointed out that Saunders’ “dishonest acts (did have an impact) on the pecuniary interests of the youth victims whose marginalized position he depended on to carry out his fraud.”

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Saunders, she said, did nothing to help the youths in his care get into healthy independent living situations, adding,  if he had, his own interests would have been undermined.

Magnin pointed out that even when there isn’t evidence that Saunders stole from youth directly, he showed indifference. The only thing he cared about was how the fraud affected his “personal interests and efforts to evade detection.”

READ MORE: Disgraced former Kelowna social worker testifies he was ‘fraudulent’

Last year, Saunders pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust, and using a forged document.

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.

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