The on-going Cullen Commission is reviewing allegations of money laundering in British Columbia, Canada, presided by Austin Cullen.
The investigation goes back to earlier in the year. Of note, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not have the resources to look into the province’s largest casino nor did the Lottery Corp have the authority to crack down on suspicious transaction.
According to Ward Clapham, the former officer-in-charge of the Richmond RCMP detachment, he several times to establish a new unit directly assigned to the River Rock Casino but his requests met with rejection by the city.
Of course, he needed the city’s approval to create a “casino crime team.” He tole the Commission that he pushed for the team until his departure in 2008.
Given reports of money laundering affecting real estate and housing affordability, luxury car sales and gambling in B.C., an inquiry was initiated.
Gord Friesen, a former Mountie and former manager of investigations for the B.C. Lottery Corp., avows that he didn’t have the authority to stop a transaction without proof of the use of proceeds of crime.
In the words of Patrick McGowan, senior counsel for the inquiry commission,
“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?”
The answer is apparently not at that time. Per Friesen, when he started at River Rock, investigators from Lottery Corp had received reports of suspicious transactions and large cash buy-ins.
In fact, reports were made to Fintrac, Canada’s financial transactions reporting center as well as B.C.’s gaming policy and enforcement branch along with various departments within the RCMP.
The reports grew to around twenty-five per week. As for how many times someone was arrested for money laundering or loan sharking in the casino, Friesen said, “it wasn’t a lot.”
The Cullen Commission inquiry knows that transactions involving as much as $800,000 were not uncommon at River Rock starting around 2010. Imagine players hauling in bags and suitcases full of cash, often in $20 bills.
A surveillance manager at the casino, Steven Beeskma, revealed to the Commission that players would cash out large sums in $100 bills because this would be scrutinized less at a bank.