Alleged victim speaks out about social worker accused of exploiting youth
One of the alleged victims of a B.C. social worker accused of exploiting vulnerable youth is opening up about troubling allegations that have now led to multiple lawsuits claiming money meant to help young people in care was stolen.
The alleged victim, whose identity CTV News has agreed to protect, said she was 15 years old and in foster care the first time she met Kelowna social worker Robert Riley Saunders.
Her lawsuit alleges "Saunders opened a joint bank account with the Plaintiff at Interior Savings. Saunders stole the funds deposited by the Ministry into the joint back accounts by moving them to his own individual account at Interior Savings and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint bank account."
"We opened the bank account and…it was never talked about again and I never seen any of the money," the plaintiff told CTV.
Documents filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia allege "Saunders knowingly made a series of false and/or misleading statements to the Plaintiff in order to manipulate the Plaintiff into opening the joint bank account with Saunders."
The lawsuit also claims he was "verbally and emotionally abusive" towards her.
As a result, the alleged victim ended up homeless, she said, at one point living in a makeshift shelter she built herself.
"While I was homeless, I was sexually exploited," she said, adding that she "got into hard drugs to cope with what I was going through."
Similar allegations of misappropriated funds are described in a class-action lawsuit filed against Saunders earlier this month.
Jason Gratl, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case, alleges the money amounts to "at least $400,000 cumulatively, but we expect that it's far in excess of that."
In that lawsuit, Saunders is accused of moving “the Plaintiff from a stable home environment into an unstable residential or independent living arrangement in order to make the Plaintiff eligible for payment of certain financial benefits by the Ministry."
Documents filed in the Supreme Court in early November allege that "Saunders engaged in the same and similar unlawful and inexcusable activities in respect of dozens of other children in his care, most of whom are Aboriginal children."
CTV has been told he is no longer with the ministry. No criminal charges have been laid and none of the allegations against him have been proven in court.
CTV News reached out to Saunders' lawyer, but has not heard back.
Saunders' alleged victim, meanwhile, said even when she had concerns, she was made to feel like nobody would listen and nobody cared.
"If children are supposed to be getting money every month the ministry should have been looking into it and making sure where exactly it was going," she said. "I've had to build up my self-esteem and learn my self-worth again."
She said she's now found a home and is happy again.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber