Defense seeks house arrest for former Kelowna, B.C. social worker

The defense attorney for a former social worker from Kelowna, B.C., is seeking a suspended sentence for Robert Riley Saunders. He embezzled at least $460,000 from youths in his care, who were mostly Indigenous.

A conditional sentence is served in the community and is essentially a form of house arrest. The defense is asking that Saunders be allowed to leave for employment reasons or other possible exceptions.

Saunders previously pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and using a false document.

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For the fraud and breach of trust charges, defense attorney Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking a suspended sentence of two years less a day, followed by three years probation.

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For forging his degree in 1996 to get his ministry job, the defense argues that Saunders should be given credit for time already served in prison.

The court heard Saunders spent around a month in jail when he was first arrested for embezzling funds from a youth in his care, but has since been out on bail.

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« It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group than children in care who are on permanent orders, » Judge Steven Wilson said. « So presumably, not only can their parents not take care of them, but there’s no one else who can. »

The Crown argues Saunders should spend six to eight years in prison for opening joint bank accounts with youths and then stealing their money.

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The prosecution told the court that some offenses are so serious that they warrant jail time, and this is one of those cases.

Fitzpatrick says that since moving to Calgary, Saunders has struggled to keep a job after people learned of his crimes.

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“His name is now, according to my submission, known throughout the country. His reputation will never recover,” Fitzpatrick told the court.

Judge Steven Wilson responded by asking, “Isn’t that just a consequence of the offence?

In the gallery, social workers who criticized Saunders nodded in agreement.

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Fitzpatrick told the court that Saunders had been in counseling and volunteered at a Calgary animal shelter as well as a food bank.

The court heard that Saunders was still in bankruptcy proceedings.

Fitzpatrick says the former social worker wants to pay back some of the money he stole, and if he completes his sentence while working in the community, he’ll be better able to pay off his debts.

The defense also argues that Saunders is remorseful, although the Crown claims this is not genuine.

Saunders sat in the prisoner’s box wearing a blue-collar shirt as lawyers discussed his white-collar crime.

On Thursday he seemed to doze off occasionally, but on Friday he started sobbing and shaking at times.

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The court is now awaiting a report on whether or not mental health issues might be a mitigating factor in Saunders’ crimes.

Sentencing proceedings are scheduled to continue on July 12.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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