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KELOWNA, B.C. — A former British Columbia social worker accused of stealing money from foster children under his care has pleaded guilty in a Kelowna court.

The BC Prosecution Service says Robert Riley Saunders pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust in connection with his duties as a child protection worker and causing the province to act on a forged document. 

Saunders faced 13 charges arising from a three-year investigation by RCMP that included 10 counts of fraud over $5,000. 

Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the prosecution service, says they anticipate the outstanding charges will be stayed at the completion of his sentencing hearing set for March 21. 

The B.C. Supreme Court approved a settlement last year in a class-action lawsuit brought against Saunders and the provincial government by more than 100 children who claimed the social worker stole from them. 

Several lawsuits were filed before the settlement, alleging Saunders had moved the children from stable homes in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the ministry. 

Statements of claim alleged Saunders took the funds deposited in their accounts, leaving them homeless and vulnerable to addiction and physical and sexual abuse. 

The notice of settlement said each member would get a basic $25,000 payment and those who are Indigenous would get an additional $44,000. 

Further damages could be paid to those who experienced homelessness, psychological harm, sexual exploitation or injury, or whose education was delayed, the settlement said. 

Both Saunders and the ministry were named as defendants in the lawsuits, but the former social worker never filed a response. 

The B.C. government wasn’t immediately available to comment on the plea, but it said in a statement in a settlement agreement filed last July that Saunders harmed children in the director’s care and the province was “vicariously liable for the harm caused” by the man.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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