Former Kelowna social worker Robert Riley Saunders is scheduled to plead guilty next month to at least one of the 13 criminal charges he’s facing.
Saunders, accused of stealing money from at-risk youth in his care while he worked for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, is scheduled for an intended guilty plea on Sept. 27. He was indicted on 13 charges in December 2020 — 10 counts of fraud over $5,000, one count of theft over $5,000, one count of breach of trust and one count of uttering a forged document.
It’s unclear exactly which charge or charges Saunders plans to plead to. Likely, he’s struck a deal with the Crown that will see some of the charges stayed in exchange for his guilty plea on others.
The criminal proceedings come after the resolution of a class-action civil lawsuit last year. Several claims accuse Saunders of stealing the funds deposited into accounts of youth in his care — oftentimes targeting Indigenous children — leaving them homeless and subject to physical and sexual abuse, as well as vulnerable to addiction.
The B.C. Supreme Court approved a settlement on the matter in October 2020, estimated to cost the province in the realm of $15 million.
Following Saunders’s intended guilty plea in September, he’s scheduled for a seven-day Gardiner hearing in March 2022. Gardiner hearings are part of the sentencing process when the defence and Crown can’t agree on all of the facts relating to the charge.
The judge will make findings on the disputed facts following that hearing, and a sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later date.