It certainly doesn’t sound like a legitimate excuse, but apparently some British Columbia casino bosses shirked drug-trafficking probes, fearing that scrutiny would harm their business.
Rod Baker, CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, has testified before the Cullen Commission now actively investigating suspicious high roller activity linked to a Chinese transnational gang. He said that revenue was hit by money-laundering inquiries in 2015.
Lottery Corp. Chief Operation Officer, Brad Desmarais had received complaints at that time from Baker and Michael Graydon of the Vancouver Edgewater Casino. Baker also notified CEO Jim Lightbody.
A lot of concern was spreading while B.C. Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch staff were urging Lottery Corp. management to crack down on hundreds of millions in small, $20 bills flooding into B.C. casinos in the hands of Chinese high rollers funded by Asian gangs.
The RCMP knew that a number of River Rock high rollers were potentially funded by a drug-trafficking network with links to terrorist financing. Paul King Jin was targeted as the source of funds. So why did the casino execs balk at pointing fingers. According to Desmarais,
“We are acutely aware of the revenue implications for both of us.”
Graydon was CEO of the Lottery Corp. until 2014. He had pressured executives to meet their revenue targets or have their bonuses withheld.
Desmarais said he was “pressing” B.C.’s casino regulator to disrupt illegal casinos where these high rollers might have taken their business. Lightbody himself said that Baker complained about driving high rollers away.
Desmarais was probed about a series of emails between him and Lottery Corp. investigator Daryl Tottenham in December 2014.
They pertained to the failure of casino staff to report on-going suspicious transactions. It was recurrent and River Rock staff turned a blind eye.
In one email, Tottenham wrote, “I recognize we do not want to jeopardize revenue.”
As for Desmarais, he pushed back on the enforcement branch’s warning that organized crime was flooding B.C. casinos with drug cash from China. He said that large amounts of cash in B.C. casinos were “often erroneously associated to organized crime.”
He had met with B.C. anti-gang units to discuss investigations into a suspected Asian organized crime loan-sharking ring at River Rock Casino. In fact, he had communicated repeatedly with Lottery Corp. investigator Mike Hiller, who informed him that most Chinese high rollers at the casino got their cash from loan sharks and were paying back loans in China.
Desmarais nonetheless still believed most River Rock high-rollers were legitimate business persons “unwitting” of being funded by transnational drug-trafficking and money laundering schemes, as the RCMP alleged.