A former investigator told The Cullen Commission has heard from a former B.C. Lottery Corp investigator about potential money laundering in B.C. at the River Rock casino. Mike Hiller told the Commission about suspicious cash transactions in casinos with warnings going unheeded. Hiller didn’t believe a provincial organization should be taking money from organized crime.
It all began after 2009 when revenues from VIP gamblers increased dramatically. At the time, the investigator alleged organized crime was laundering drug money for China. The response was lax and other Lottery Corp officials turned a deaf ear.
Now we know that cash transactions of more than $100,000 per buy-in were rather common after 2010 in from Chinese nationals several Vancouver-area casinos. The gambling money supposedly was supplied to VIPs from loan sharks. Of course, the casino managers wanted to keep the funds coming in.
Hiller said that VIPs paid back funds borrowed in B.C. through bank accounts in China. He is a credible source given his long experience with the RMCP and drug-trafficking probes. He also was part of an Asian organized crime intelligence unit, working with Hong Kong and Beijing officials.
He had recognized organized crime suspects in the Richmond casino, as well as the method of making suspicious transactions. They entailed bundles of $20 bills wrapped in elastic bands and stuffed into bags.
The perpetrators were gangs in China could easily get rid of massive volumes of drug cash in Vancouver, per Hiller. He said that repeat VIPs paid low commissions for their cash loans and repaid them to organized crime based in China.
Hiller was stunned to learn that in 2012, VIP betting limits at the River Rock were increasing from $45,000 per hand to $90,000, which only made the money-laundering threat worse. He made it clear that suspicions are not hard evidence.
In fact, Hiller wrote a rebuttal to Brad Desmarais, the Lottery Corp. Vice-President of Internal Articles for Staff in 2013 and 2014 who said that cash from China pouring into B.C. casinos was not money laundering, but legitimate “underground banking,” It is not known if Desmarais received it or responded.
“I was very concerned of the viewpoint (in Desmarais’ article) that it didn’t contain
the most likely concern that the money was coming from organized crime.”
Hill told the Cullen inquiry that he was “notably upset” when Jim Lightbody, the Lottery Corp. CEO, gave an internal speech at head office in March 2015 in which he stated he “was quite happy” to report increased revenue due to increased volumes of betting from VIP gamblers. Lightbody’s lawyer, Robin McFee, told the inquiry that his March 2015 speech had noted that Lottery Corp. investigators were helping ensure that increased casino revenues Canadian anti-money laundering laws.
Hiller revealed that he had complained to River Rock management in 2014 when he discovered the casino did not act when three VIPs bought $840,000 worth of chips. Allegedly, loan sharks were using hotel rooms to supply VIPs with unsourced chips.
A lawyer for the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, owner of the River Rock, asked Hiller if its managers co-operated when they met with police to discuss concerns.
Hiller replied that they did. In defense, lawyers for Great Canadian Gaming have argued that the company fulfilled its reporting obligations and helped police identify loan sharks, through surveillance.