Senior B.C. official walked off when asked about money laundering, investigator says

An investigator with B.C.’s gaming regulator has testified that when he approached and questioned a senior B.C. government official about massive suspected drug-money laundering in the province’s casinos, the official walked away without saying a word.

Rob Barber, a former Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch investigator, told the province’s inquiry into money laundering on Tuesday that he approached Doug Scott, an associate deputy minister in the government at the time, after a meeting during his time at Richmond’s River Rock Casino.

Barber told the Cullen Commission that he was an investigator there from 2010 to 2015, and from his previous experience with the Vancouver police department, he immediately suspected that large transactions to launder drug money were occurring in the casino.

He said the transactions ramped up in frequency and in financial value starting in 2010, and that he became frustrated that neither the B.C. Lottery Corporation nor the regulator’s management were doing anything to stop them.

So when Scott attended a meeting with the regulator around 2011, Barber said he decided to question him as a senior official responsible for gaming. He said he believed Scott knew about the scale of suspected money laundering occurring at River Rock, and he believed Scott should take some responsibility.

“I thought his liability was considerable,” Barber told the inquiry.

“I told him that money laundering was out of control and something needs to be done about it,” Barber testified. “I was confident that he heard me. He looked at me and stepped around me, and left.”

Barber also testified about several meetings with another senior official responsible for gaming, Cheryl Wenezenki Yolland.

He said a branch manager complained at a meeting in late 2015 or early 2016 that B.C. Lottery Corp. managers did not believe they were regulated by the branch, and therefore the regulator couldn’t do anything about “dirty money.”

“Her response was, ‘You sort it out,” Barber said.

He told inquiry lawyers that that led him to conclude that the branch had no support from B.C.’s government to block suspected money laundering in casinos.

Barber also testified that he believed front-line Lottery Corp. investigators were diligently reporting on loan sharking and money laundering, but that he had “less faith in the people higher up.”

He spoke about another discussion with Wenezenki Yolland, in which he explained his view that drug money was being laundered in large volumes in Lottery Corp. casinos.

Barber said he interpreted that Wenezenki Yolland accepted his view, but told him Lottery Corp. executive Brad Desmarais had said the large volumes of cash flowing into casinos were due to “underground banking.”

Barber said he tried to meet with Desmarais to discuss the matter, but that Desmarais never responded.

The inquiry also heard from Muriel Labine, a former employee of Great Canadian Gaming.

Labine described working in the company’s Richmond casino from 1992 to 2000, and witnessing a sudden arrival of loan sharking activity and flood of suspicious cash, in 1997.

That summer, B.C.’s government raised betting limits from $25 per hand to $500 per hand and introduced baccarat, Labine said.

She said staff in the casino recognized almost immediately that large cash transactions were rising, and the cash for bets was mostly supplied by young men that she believed were connected to gangs.

“We were told this story from management, that it’s just friends loaning money to friends,” Labine said. “You say, ‘This is loan sharking, this is money laundering.’ But not once did I see steps to stop this.’”

And Labine testified she believed that management actually accommodated the loan sharks and gangs.

She recalled an incident, where a man that she understood to be a gang kingpin, was allegedly given a wide birth by management. Labine complained to her boss that the gambler was harassing a table game dealer and ignoring the casino’s non-smoking rules.

“My floor manager said ‘I don’t want you talking to this man. He is dangerous. Stay away from him,’” Labine recalled. “And I’m thinking ‘Are the gangs running the place? Or is the casino running it?’”

Labine said she kept a journal about her experiences inside the casino, including her observations of suspected gang activity and drug money laundering.

But she kept the journal to herself until a 2018 report commissioned by B.C.’s government, and completed by former RCMP executive Peter German, which concluded that B.C. casinos were unwitting victims of money laundering.

“I had such high hopes for the German report, and the very first line gave casinos a white-wash,” Labine said. “There is a culture in the casinos, we have been taking this money since 1997.”

Labine’s disappointment in German’s conclusion is what caused her to bring her journal evidence to Global News, she said. And Global News published Labine’s story in May 2019.

In cross-examination by a lawyer for Great Canadian Gaming, Labine agreed that her experiences in the Richmond casino occurred about twenty years ago.

Lawyers for Great Canadian say the company has done nothing wrong in relation to casino money laundering, and no court has ever ruled the company’s casinos accepted proceeds of crime.

Testimony is scheduled to continue this week.

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