Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

The inquiry into money laundering in B.C. has heard the RCMP didn’t have the resources to investigate illegal activities at the province’s largest casino, while the B.C. Lottery Corp. didn’t have the authority to crack down on suspicious transactions.

Ward Clapham, the former officer-in-charge of the Richmond RCMP detachment, said he tried twice to establish a new unit linked to the River Rock Casino but his requests were denied by the city.

He told the inquiry on Wednesdayhe needed the city’s approval to create the “casino crime team,” but general duty front-line officers were a higher priority for Richmond than gaming.

He said he pushed for a specialized team until he left the RCMP in 2008, but the support never materialized despite the expansion of illegal gaming activities in B.C. throughout the early 2000s.

Clapham’s request for funding to support such a team “caused significant friction,” he added.

He said no other RCMP detachment was facing the kind of challenges they were facing with gaming activities and day-to-day policing in Richmond, which does not have its own municipal force.

Clapham also agreed that the increase in gaming brought “social costs,” including serious crimes in the city.

“That whole panacea of crime includes front-line policing responsibilities like, you know, missing people, potential homicides (and) kidnappings that can be directly or indirectly related to gaming issues, to actual illegal gaming activities or crimes like money laundering” or loan sharking, he said.

The provincial government launched the inquiry after commissioning reports that outlined how money laundering was affecting real estate and housing affordability, luxury car sales and gambling in B.C.

Clapham said he hoped that some revenue from gaming would be allocated to the proposed specialized unit, but he wasn’t able to convince Richmond’s leaders that that was the way to go.

The inquiry also heard an integrated illegal gaming enforcement team was established in 2003, including Mounties and B.C.’s gaming policy and enforcement branch, but it was disbanded in 2009.

Gord Friesen, a former Mountie and former manager of investigations for the B.C. Lottery Corp., said he didn’t have the authority to stop a transaction without proof the money was the proceeds of crime.

“If $200,000 in $20 bills wrapped in elastic bands was dropped off to somebody in a parking lot outside the casino and tendered at the cash cage, would that be a sufficiently suspicious transaction to warrant intervention?” asked Patrick McGowan, senior counsel for the inquiry commission.

It would be suspicious and reportable, replied Friesen, but such a transaction would not have been stopped without evidence that a crime was being committed.

Friesen estimated that when he first started at the River Rock, investigators with the lottery corporation made around five to 10 reports of such suspicious transactions each week.

He said the reports were made to Fintrac, Canada’s financial transactions reporting centre, as well as B.C.’s gaming policy and enforcement branch and various departments within the RCMP.

Suspicious transactions increased over time, said Friesen, and the reports grew to around 25 a week.

Asked how many times someone was arrested for money laundering or loan sharking in the casino, he said, “it wasn’t a lot.”

The B.C. Lottery Corp. did not have the authority to dictate how much or in what form casinos could accept money as buy-ins for gaming, Friesen added.

He said the corporation was in “constant negotiations” with the gaming policy and enforcement branch to find alternatives to cash transactions.

Friesen said there was room for improvement in the lottery corporation’s anti-money laundering efforts, but “as part of the tools that we had to deter this type of thing, I think we did a very good job.”

Confronted with the fact that large, suspicious transactions were increasing significantly year over year, Friesen said, “we needed assistance and we weren’t getting assistance.”

The inquiry heard earlier this week that transactions involving as much as $800,000 were common at River Rock starting around 2010 as players hauled in bags and suitcases full of cash, often in $20 bills.

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

money laundering

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack mine, 65 km north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack Mine, 65 kilometres north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health reports 20 more COVID-19 cases in outbreak at Brucejack Mine

So far, 42 people have tested positive, nine cases are active and self-isolating onsite

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

Most Read