Social worker 'stole' funds from vulnerable B.C. youths, lawsuit alleges
A social worker in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley allegedly “misappropriated” government “funds or benefits” intended for vulnerable youths, according to a proposed civil class action lawsuit.
Documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week highlight the treatment of one First Nations child, who was allegedly manipulated into opening a joint back account with the Kelowna-area social worker Robert Riley Saunders.
According to the claim, “Saunders stole the funds deposited by the Ministry into the joint bank accounts by moving them to his own individual account…and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint bank account.”
The claim also alleges that the child “was exploited due to his or her vulnerability” and “as a result of Saunder’s actions, the Plaintiff’s living situation was unstable and transient, and …from time to time homeless.”
But lawyer Jason Gratl said that case is just the tip of the iceberg.
The lawsuit claims 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."
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.”.
But the children never saw the money, Gratl said, and in some cases didn't even know they were eligible for the funding.
"They had been informed that they were entitled to nothing. They were told that their problems were not Riley Saunders's problems," Gratl said.
The bank where Saunders allegedly set up the joint accounts and the Ministry of Children and Family Development are also named as defendants in the proposed class action suit.
Some of the blame for Saunders's alleged conduct must be shared by his superiors, Gratl said.
"The scheme doesn't work unless Saunders's supervisor, his team leads, don't actually conduct the team interviews every six to eight weeks that they're required to conduct," he told CTV News.
"Nobody would ever fault an institution for having a bad apple in the bunch, or being the victim of fraudulent conduct by its employees. The problem comes in in that the ministry failed to detect this conduct for years."
The lawsuit also alleges the bank failed to tell the youths that the accounts being set up in their name were joint accounts with Saunders.
None of the defendants have filed a response to the proposed suit, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
On Wednesday, Children's Minister Katrine Conroy told CTV News she can't comment directly on the allegations because of a court-ordered publication ban stemming from a related case.
She did say the government is working to take care of the youths involved, and to make sure the rest of the children in care are protected.
"Our priority is for the youth," Conroy said. "We are doing the utmost to ensure that this has been taken care."
CTV News reached out to Saunders but has not heard back.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Jon Woodward and David Molko