Commissioner Austin Cullen, back centre, listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Monday, February 24, 2020. A former RCMP officer described by his lawyer as a whistleblower for investigating organized crime in casinos is scheduled to testify today at an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Commissioner Austin Cullen, back centre, listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Monday, February 24, 2020. A former RCMP officer described by his lawyer as a whistleblower for investigating organized crime in casinos is scheduled to testify today at an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Inquiry hears gaming minister focused on money, not organized crime at B.C. casinos

2017 arrests tied to organized crime, illegal gaming led to dramatic dips in revenue at casinos

A former RCMP officer testified at an inquiry into money laundering Thursday that a British Columbia cabinet minister told him in 2009 that the gaming minister knew about organized crime at casinos but was more focused on the revenue they generated.

Fred Pinnock, who was in charge of the now-defunct illegal gaming enforcement team, testified that he met with then-solicitor general Kash Heed, who is also a former officer he knew through policing circles for 35 years.

Pinnock said Heed told him that his concerns about illegal activities were legitimate but Rich Coleman, who was the gaming minister, was “all about the money.”

“I believe I said to him I’m convinced that Rich Coleman knows what’s going on inside those casinos,” Pinnock said. “And he confirmed my perceptions.”

Pinnock said Heed asserted Coleman was “largely responsible” for problems at casinos and named three or four senior RCMP officers who he alleged were complicit as “puppets for Coleman.”

He said the meeting with Heed was at a cafe or restaurant in Victoria in November 2009.

“Did you ask him whether, as the sitting solicitor general, he had directed any sort of enforcement response?” asked Patrick McGowan, a lawyer for the inquiry.

“It didn’t come up,” Pinnock replied.

Pinnock said he called Heed in July 2018 and secretly recorded the conversation before meeting with him in September that year, when he again recorded the former politician repeating his previous comments about Coleman.

Before he initially met with Heed, Pinnock said his then-girlfriend, legislature member Naomi Yamamoto, approached the gaming minister about arranging a meeting with him on what Pinnock alleged was “out-of-control organized criminal activity” at casinos.

“She told me that it was in a group setting and she described his reaction as brutal and dismissive and embarrassing,” Pinnock said. “My conclusion from that is that he did not want to be seen to be told.”

Yamamoto, who was minister of state for emergency preparedness before the B.C. Liberals were defeated in 2017, never discussed any caucus or cabinet issues with him, said Pinnock, who is now married to Yamamoto.

The NDP launched the inquiry after reports outlined how illegal cash was helping to fuel the real estate, luxury car and gambling sectors in the province. The province also commissioned three reports that said millions of dollars in dirty money flowed through those businesses.

Pinnock said his team was working in partnership with the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch but that was a “charade” and rising tension had him move his staff to a different area of the same building.

He told the inquiry his superiors’ expectations in working with the branch were to “play nicely, get along, we don’t expect big things from you.”

His attempts to investigate proceeds of crime, money laundering and loan sharking at casinos had him writing two proposals in 2007, the first to expand his team and the second to increase funding, Pinnock said, adding he did so at the direction of a senior officer.

However, he testified he doesn’t believe anything came of what he proposed and that he quit his job in December 2007 after two years of frustration. He retired from the RCMP the following year, and the illegal gaming enforcement team was disbanded in 2009.

Earlier Thursday, the inquiry heard the arrests of several people tied to organized crime and illegal gaming in 2017 led to dramatic reductions in revenue at casinos, but only temporarily.

Daryl Tottenham, manager of anti-money laundering programs for the B.C. Lottery Corp., testified casinos were like ghost towns for two to three weeks as high-end players and others stayed away.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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