Robert Riley Saunders, former Kelowna social worker, charged

Saunders arrested, charged

A former Kelowna social worker who allegedly stole from dozens of at-risk youth in his care has been arrested in Alberta and faces 13 criminal charges following a lengthy investigation by police.

Robert Riley Saunders is currently in police custody and being transported to Kelowna, where he will appear in Kelowna court next week.

Over the past few years, dozens at-risk youth, many who are Indigenous, accused Saunders of opening up joint bank accounts with them, and stealing thousands of dollars that were meant to be used for their care. Saunders' alleged actions led to youth in his care becoming homeless, developing addiction issues and being sexually exploited.

His scheme spanned many years, dating as far back as 2001, until he was caught in March 2018. He was employed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development since 1996.

The allegations led to a class-action lawsuit that was recently settled by the provincial government. The province is expected to pay out upwards of $8 million to dozens of youth who were in Saunders' care.

The criminal investigation into Saunders has been ongoing since 2018.

“This was a lengthy and laborious investigation, led by the Fraud Section of the Kelowna RCMP Serious Crime Unit,” said Supt. Kara Triance of the Kelowna RCMP. “We are pleased to be able to report back to the community that the matter has now advanced into the judicial process.”

Saunders now faces 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.

All of the charges are alleged to have occurred in Kelowna between July 2011 and March 2017, except for the forged document charge, which allegedly occurred in August 1996 in Prince George, Fort St. John and Kelowna. 

Castanet previously found Saunders used a fake degree from the University of Manitoba to get his job at the Ministry of Children and Family Services back in 1996. 

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