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RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Last Updated Oct 28, 2020 at 5:14 pm MST

VANCOUVER — The inquiry into money laundering in B.C. has heard the RCMP didn’t have the resources to investigate illegal activities at the province’s largest casino, while the B.C. Lottery Corp. didn’t have the authority to crack down on suspicious transactions.

Ward Clapham, the former officer-in-charge of the Richmond RCMP detachment, says he tried twice to establish a new unit directly assigned to the River Rock Casino but his requests were denied by the city.

He told the inquiry on Wednesday he needed the city’s approval to create the “casino crime team,” but general duty front-line officers were a higher priority for Richmond than gaming.

Clapham says he pushed for a specialized team until he left the RCMP in 2008, but the support never materialized despite the expansion of illegal gaming activities in B.C. throughout the early 2000s.

The provincial government launched the inquiry after commissioning reports that outlined how money laundering was affecting real estate and housing affordability, luxury car sales and gambling in B.C.

The inquiry also heard from Gord Friesen, a former Mountie and former manager of investigations for the B.C. Lottery Corp., who says he didn’t have the authority to stop a transaction without proof the money was the proceeds of crime.

“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?” asked Patrick McGowan, senior counsel for the inquiry commission.

It would be suspicious and reportable, replied Friesen, but such a transaction would not have been stopped without evidence that a crime was being committed.

Friesen estimated that when he first started at River Rock, investigators with the lottery corporation made around five to 10 reports of suspicious transactions and large cash buy-ins each week. 

He said the reports were made to Fintrac, Canada’s financial transactions reporting centre, as well as B.C.’s gaming policy and enforcement branch and various departments within the RCMP.

Suspicious transactions increased over time, said Friesen, and the reports grew to around 25 every week. 

Asked how many times someone was arrested for money laundering or loan sharking in the casino, he said, “it wasn’t a lot.”

The inquiry heard earlier this week that transactions involving as much as $800,000 were not uncommon at River Rock starting around 2010 as players hauled in bags and suitcases full of cash, often in $20 bills.

Steven Beeksma, who worked as a surveillance manager at the casino, said players would then cash out large sums in $100 bills, which would be scrutinized less at a bank.

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2020.

The Canadian Press