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Fraudulent Kelowna social worker who embezzled $460K apologizes in court

Click to play video: 'Fraudster apologizes as Kelowna sentencing hearing wraps' Fraudster apologizes as Kelowna sentencing hearing wraps
Fraudster apologizes as Kelowna sentencing hearing wraps – Jul 12, 2022

Robert Riley Saunders stood in a Kelowna courtroom Tuesday morning and apologized for his crimes as his multi-day sentencing hearing wrapped up.

“I have been restricted for the past four and a half years from addressing those I have impacted for my very poor choices. I am here today to express my sincere remorse from the bottom of my heart and to say sorry to all the individuals I’ve impacted because of my selfish mistakes,” Saunders said.

The former Kelowna man who worked as a social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development previously pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and using a forged document.

Read more: White Collar Crime — How did a B.C. social worker embezzle $460K from the government?

Saunders’ crimes involved opening joint bank accounts with youth in his care and then after cheques were issued in the youths’ names, taking the funds.

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The province has estimated he embezzled at least $460,000.

Saunders also forged his degree to get his ministry job in 1996.

“I am sorry to my former employer and my former co-workers and to the youth and families that I was responsible to care for,” Saunders said in court.

“I wish I could go back in time and speak to myself and be the voice of reason to myself and stop myself from acting on my greed and selfish behaviour.”

Click to play video: 'Kelowna, B.C. fraudster’s crimes were not victimless: B.C. Supreme Court' Kelowna, B.C. fraudster’s crimes were not victimless: B.C. Supreme Court
Kelowna, B.C. fraudster’s crimes were not victimless: B.C. Supreme Court – May 20, 2022

Court had been expecting a report addressing whether or not mental health concerns could be a mitigating factor in Saunders’ crimes.

However, on Tuesday, Saunders’ lawyer told the court he didn’t have an expert report to submit but asked the justice to consider a doctor’s letter already before the court.

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Defence counsel argued the letter shows Saunders has been proactively pursuing counselling and is trying to gain insight into the reasons he committed the crimes.

“That is significant because an individual who has insight into the reasons for their offending has, in my submission, good prospects for rehabilitation,” defence counsel Brian Fitzpatrick said.

Read more: ‘I was bullied by my own social worker,’ says defrauded youth in sentencing

After Saunders’ statement to the court, the justice reserved his sentencing decision.

The case is scheduled to be back in court on July 25.

Pending the availability of defence counsel, Saunders could be sentenced on that date.

If counsel is not available, the July 25 court date will be used to set a date for sentencing.

Read more: Defence asks for house arrest for former Kelowna, B.C. social worker

Saunders’ lawyer is asking for a conditional sentence that would in practice amount to nearly two years of house arrest followed by probation.

While Crown counsel is seeking a comparatively lengthy prison sentence of six to eight years.

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— with files from Jules Knox, Darrian Matassa Fung and Kathy Michaels

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