Exclusive: Documents allege complicity in money laundering in major investigation of River Rock Casino
Serious allegations including potential falsification of documents and complicity in money laundering are revealed in new records about a major investigation of Richmond’s River Rock Casino, the gambling facility where B.C. Sen. Larry Campbell is chair of the committee responsible for overseeing security and compliance.
In a freedom of information request Global News obtained hundreds of investigation records and confidential B.C. government emails regarding a probe of River Rock Casino launched in September 2017. Many of the documents are completely redacted, to protect police investigations and the identities of River Rock employees.
WATCH: New information triggers fresh calls for investigation into Sen. Larry Campbell
In the B.C. Gaming Enforcement Branch (GPEB) investigation, a manager responsible for business in River Rock’s ultra-lucrative private VIP betting rooms, was alleged to be “complicit” in a $200,000 suspected money laundering transaction, completed for a Chinese high-roller. The transaction “was allowed by the site,” documents allege, even though the VIP had already been banned from B.C. Lottery casinos for suspicious actions.
In 2018 a River Rock VIP relations director lost her registration to work in B.C. casinos as a result of GPEB’s investigation. But new documents show it was the Richmond casino and it’s VIP due diligence and anti-money laundering compliance system that was really probed — not just one key employee.
Probe findings about alleged River Rock compliance breaches were deemed so broad and serious, that an investigative report was forwarded to the B.C. official responsible for Great Canadian’s corporate registration, records show.
Also, executives including Great Canadian CEO Rod Baker were connected to the investigation, according to documents, because they were present at a meeting with a VIP, that raised concerns from the RCMP about gaming integrity.
WATCH: B.C. casinos became ‘unwitting’ laundromats for dirty money
Most troubling, it was alleged by a B.C. Lottery Corp. investigator that after River Rock Casino was asked to forward to a casino investigator important compliance documents regarding the $200,000 transaction, a crucial form was potentially “filled in after the fact and falsified.”
Events probed in the recent River Rock Casino money laundering investigation occurred under Campbell’s watch.
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch, a legal and ethics oversight group, has already called for a Senate Ethics Officer investigation into Sen. Campbell’s role with Great Canadian, following a recent Global News investigation. A response from the Officer to Conacher, says that Conacher’s complaint will be examined, but at this point there is not an investigation.
But new details reported by Global News about the River Rock Casino money laundering probe provide “even more evidence that an investigation is needed into Senator Campbell’s business interests,” Conacher said Friday in an interview. “You can’t just say one employee was a rotten apple. There was no evidence that the due diligence system for Great Canadian was there to discourage this activity. And the board, is the decision making body.”
Campbell and Great Canadian CEO Rod Baker did not respond to interview requests for this story.
“To our knowledge, Great Canadian is not the subject of any police investigation, nor would we have reason to believe that we are under investigation by police,” a prepared response from the company says. “Additionally, we are not aware of any allegation pertaining to intentionally falsifying reporting on our part.”
The response says “Great Canadian operates in strict compliance with all laws and regulations that apply to our industry.”
The response also cited positive findings about B.C. casinos from Peter German, the former RCMP executive who filed an independent review into B.C. casino money laundering concerns. German has said that River Rock was the epicentre of money laundering connected to Chinese drug trafficking gangs, and B.C. casinos “unwittingly” became money laundries for organized crime.
SURPRISED AND DISAPPOINTED
While Great Canadian has repeatedly cited German’s findings to Global News as a sort of seal of approval, documents and an interview with the B.C. Lottery Corp. investigator that started the recent investigation into River Rock Casino, suggest there is more to the probe than facts disclosed so far in German’s report.
The River Rock VIP host who lost her job after GPEB’s investigation, worked in the VIP program administered by Great Canadian Gaming executive Walter Soo. Her identify is redacted in documents released to Global News. So is the identity of a male VIP program employee who was in a private cash cage with the chip-purchaser in the $200,000 transaction, documents show.
On September 13 last year, after an agent for a banned gambler allegedly presented $200,000 in $100 bills to a River Rock casino cashier, Ross Alderson, the Lottery Corp.’s director of anti-money laundering, asked GPEB to take part in an investigation.
“Essentially a third-party buy-in for $200k on behalf of a banned individual was allowed by the site,” Alderson wrote in an email to GPEB, on Sept. 14. “The individual who purchased the chips then left the site immediately with the chips, without play.”
Documents show that Alderson had also asked GPEB to investigate the female VIP host in 2016.
Global News contacted Alderson, who no longer works for B.C. Lottery Corp. In a brief interview, Alderson said that he believes information in German’s report reflects a minimal version of the events and scope of GPEB’s investigation.
“I agree that incident was not necessarily reflected in the German report, and I prefer not to speculate why,” Alderson said. “I must admit I was a little bit surprised and disappointed, that in certain sections of the report, that sort of key information was lacking. And in addition, there were key people that were not interviewed.”
German and B.C.’s Ministry of the Attorney General have not responded to requests for comment about the perception of Alderson and other BCLC employees, that say they believe German’s report “minimized” actions by staff at River Rock Casino.
An issues note that was prepared for Attorney General David Eby on the case, was edited after consultations with officials who were concerned with the note’s level of disclosure.
The River Rock VIP program employee was de-registered after it was alleged staff was “complicit in money laundering” according to an early draft of the issues note.
The document shows that the “complicit in money laundering” line was edited, with the explanation, that the River Rock employee “has not been charged with money laundering (this is not GPEB’s role.)”
Eby was asked to respond to a number of questions about the River Rock Casino Resort money laundering investigation, including whether a River Rock executive was named in investigation findings. His ministry responded with a one sentence answer.
“The ministry is unable to comment if there are ongoing or potential police investigations, or comment on the identity of specific individuals for reasons of privacy,” the response says.
ALLEGATIONS OF FALSIFIED DOCUMENTS
According to investigation documents, River Rock Casino potentially altered records so that the $200,000 transaction for a banned gambler, would not have to be reported to Fintrac.
Under B.C.’s gaming laws, patrons suspected of money laundering transactions, loan sharking, or other illicit activities, can be banned from casinos.
And so-called third parties — meaning people hired to fool casinos by completing transactions for hidden buyers that may include drug traffickers and money launderers — are not allowed to buy chips.
In security systems to prevent money laundering, casinos are required to create declaration forms meant to show Canada’s anti-money laundering agency Fintrac, that “reasonable measures” were taken to identify the true source of a gambler’s funds.
A summary of GPEB findings and concerns in the case, says: “BCLC have obtained a copy of the declaration and it appears the individual buying claimed the funds were his, although it is alleged that some RRCR clearly knew this to be false.”
Other concerns stated in the document are that “BCLC do not allow third party buy in transactions and this transaction therefore should have been refused; Avoidance of Fintrac reporting by a banned individual; Disregard of previous BCLC direction around chip security.”
The findings document has been redacted to protect police investigations.
At the start of the investigation in September 2017, a B.C. Lottery Corp. investigator informed GPEB that when River Rock staff was asked to forward a record documenting the $200,000 transaction, apparently “it was filled out after the fact and falsified … (this) would be a serious violation with Fintrac reporting requirements if confirmed, so the cage cashier will likely need to be interviewed.”
The investigation documents name other alleged policy and compliance breaches, and state that Great Canadian Gaming chief executive Rod Baker was present when the VIP employee who was eventually de-registered, improperly participated as a translator in an investigative interview with a VIP gambler. According to documents, the interview was conducted by B.C. Lottery Corp.’s vice-president of casinos and gaming, Brad Desmerais.
According to investigation emails, after learning about the problem from the RCMP, GPEB asked for BCLC to provide records showing all the cases in which the River Rock VIP host had served as a translator for Chinese VIPs.
“It has come to my attention that a document exists from September 2015 (it may be referred to as a BCLC Interview Intelligence Summary),” an October 2017 email from a GPEB special constable to BCLC states. “I believe the BCLC investigator listed on the document was Brad Desmerais and the interview also included the GCGC CEO (Rob Baker) and COO (Terrence Doyle.)
“This document was shared by the RCMP with GPEB as it relates to the Integrity of Gaming and the Gaming Control Act,” GPEB special constable Scott McGregor wrote, in an October 12, 2017 email.
Desmerais and B.C. Lottery Corp. CEO Jim Lightbody did not respond to requests for comment on whether the interview investigated by GPEB constituted a policy breach.
“Any questions regarding integrity concerns or potential investigations should be directed to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch and/or police,” a Lottery Corp. spokeswoman said.
INVESTIGATORS LOOKED AT ORGANIZED CRIME NETWORKS
Emails exchanged between GPEB special constables involved in the investigation, also show that GPEB reviewed a document related to the RCMP’s ongoing investigation into Chinese organized crime networks involved in casino money laundering in Richmond.
“This information is related to the intelligence collection on the current file,” McGregor wrote in September 2017. “Information gleaned from internal databases … Law Enforcement and partner agencies, is used to provide situational awareness in an effort to enhance the understanding of networks suspected to be involved in criminal or illicit activity.”
Meanwhile, this week Global News asked Attorney General Eby, who controls regulation of B.C. casinos, to comment on Sen. Campbell’s recent response to Global News questions about Campbell’s dual role as public servant, and servant of shareholders, as chair of a committee responsible for Great Canadian’s compliance.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Campbell said recently outside Senate chamber, when asked by Global News to comment about money-laundering concerns at River Rock Casino.
“I can tell you this is the first time I’ve heard those comments from Mr. Campbell. I know that there are many residual concerns about the money laundering that took place at B.C. casinos, how it happened, what law enforcement’s role was, what the role of various oversight mechanisms were,” Eby said Thursday. “I look forward to learning more about the comments that you’re referring to. But these are the first I’ve heard of them.”