Banned casino dealer denies introducing high roller to gang suspect, B.C. inquiry hears

Click to play video: 'Former V.I.P. gambler and former dealer testify at Cullen Commission'
Former V.I.P. gambler and former dealer testify at Cullen Commission
At the Cullen Commission into money laundering, a former V.I.P. gambler and a former dealer testified about stacks of cash and chips being casually passed between players in casino V.I.P. rooms at B.C. casinos. John Hua reports. – Mar 3, 2021

A BC Lottery Corporation casino dealer, banned in 2015 for handling currency deliveries of up to $1 million at River Rock Casino for Chinese high rollers connected to an alleged transnational drug-trafficking organization, denied introducing one of those gamblers to loan sharking suspect Paul King Jin.

The Cullen Commission into money laundering heard Wednesday from former Vancouver Edgewater Casino worker Qi “Coco” Li, who admitted making numerous suspicious cash and chip drops for River Rock baccarat players whom the RCMP and Lottery Corp. have linked to Jin, a Richmond currency exchange, and another alleged loan shark named Kwok Chung Tam.

Li testified that she was hired at Edgewater in 2007 and that she developed a gambling addiction after she started playing high-stakes baccarat at River Rock Casino in Richmond. Because she lost so much money, Li said, she started doing errands for “big bosses” from China who bet $100,000 per hand at River Rock’s baccarat tables.

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Li was able to mingle with these high rollers and even score a River Rock “VIP” patron account herself in May 2014 by falsifying her occupation, she said.

“I recall clearly, even though my profession was a dealer, on the form I wrote, ‘housewife,'” Li said. “The government — no one supervised and controlled that. There was no supervision whatsoever, and everyone brought cash. Many people, myself included, lost our life savings. I lost my dignity and had to repay my debt for the rest of my life.”

Li’s testimony was unclear about why she started making frequent cash deliveries to River Rock VIPs in July 2014, until a B.C. Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch investigation took away her gaming employee registration in April 2015. She was also banned for five years as a patron.

“Qi Li was assisting or facilitating in the delivery of large quantities of cash or gaming chips to high-limit players at the River Rock Casino,” the investigation report filed in hearing evidence says. “This cash consisted primarily of bills of small denomination. The source of the chips is unknown.”

Commission counsel Eileen Patel and Lottery Corp. counsel Bill Smart took Li through many of these stunning transactions.

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One of them was a $400,000 cash transaction in November 2014 that connected Li and high roller Kesi Wei. The inquiry previously heard Wei has been linked to Tam and cash deliveries from Jin.

In one week in February 2015, Smart said Li was connected to $1.4 million in cash deliveries for patrons named Mr. Xia, Mr. Sha and a high roller named Long Jiang Wang.

During one of the deliveries, “Li assisted Xia transferring a suitcase into the River Rock salon that contained $310,000 cash,” the inquiry heard. The following day, Li and Xia came into the casino with a grocery bag carrying $185,000 in cash.

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Another day, Li helped Sha and Long Jiang Wang wheel three hard-shell suitcases into a River Rock hotel room. Sha then exited the room with a bag carrying $250,000 cash and went to buy casino chips.

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Yet another day, Li and Long Jiang Wang delivered $250,000 to Sha at the casino, and later returned with $290,000 cash, which they also gave to Sha.

Li said she didn’t know where any of this cash was ultimately coming from, but her job was to provide any services that Xia and a man named Wang asked for — except going to the massage parlour with them.

Li testified that she would meet Xia at the Vancouver airport when he arrived from China. She said they would visit a currency exchange in downtown Richmond, where Xia retrieved cash, before going to the River Rock where Li would help Xia and Wang set up their gambling tables and buy chips.

Li said she only recalled the large Richmond currency exchange by the word “International.”

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“When Mr. Xia came from China, he had prepared big amount (to gamble),” Li said. “So in Chinese tradition, if you accompany these big bosses and talk too much, they wouldn’t like it. I wanted to make Mr. Xia happy because I got rewards from him. They earn their own money, so they would not like to tell others how they earn it.”

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“Did you know the name of the company Silver International?” Smart asked, referring to a Richmond currency exchange linked to Jin.

“I only know the name start with International,” she answered.

“Were you getting paid by someone to help provide cash to people like Mr. Sha?” Smart continued.

“I could easily borrow money and get tips from them,” she responded.

Li admitted that on April 8, 2015, she delivered a bag of $300,000 cash to a high roller named Jia Gui Gao in the River Rock’s lobby, and several days later, delivered $500,000 worth of cellophane-wrapped casino chips to Gao inside River Rock’s private “VIP” room.

A screengrab of River Rock Casino surveillance, obtained by Global News in a legal application, shows a high roller unwrapping $100,000 worth of $5,000-value casino chips, wrapped in cellophane and delivered to him in the casino’s VIP room in 2015. Global News

An enforcement branch April 8 incident report filed in the hearing says, “Of further note is the fact that Gao had already received $300,000 in cash earlier in the day from suspected loan shark Paul King JIN.”

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Li had arrived in a taxi alone and then delivered the cash to Gao, the report says. But under questioning by commission lawyer Patel, Li said she didn’t remember where the bag came from and didn’t even know it contained cash.

“If I had known that I picked up cash, that wouldn’t happen in the lobby of the casino, because I knew there were lots of cameras in the lobby,” Li said. “I wouldn’t be so stupid to carry a big bag of cash and hand it to Mr. Gao.”

Li testified it was common for Gao and other high rollers to ask her to leave the casino and meet drivers on the street. They would call her number, pull up and name the person who was to receive a package, and she would deliver it back to the VIP room, she claimed. She said the delivery men drove BMWs, Mercedes Benz, and Bentleys, but didn’t recall details about their identities.

Another evidence report said on April 12, Li made phone contact with Gao, and then arrived at the River Rock in a taxi with an unidentified Asian man. She then delivered $500,000 of unsourced casino chips to Gao, the report says, and left the casino. But at the hearing, she claimed a River Rock high roller named “Mr. Yuan” was returning the chips to Gao.

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“That was Mr. Yuan, borrowed from Mr. Gao,” Li said. “And then he asked me to return it to Mr. Gao.”

The inquiry has previously heard that Gao was linked in reports to two men involved in fentanyl trafficking investigations and to cash deliveries from Jin and Silver.

And on April 15, Li received a bag with an estimated stack of $1 million in chips from Gao, inquiry records say, before she entered a washroom and covertly provided $300,000 worth of chips to another gambler.

A screengrab of River Rock Casino surveillance, obtained by Global News in a legal application, shows a high-stakes baccarat player with a delivery of about $500,000 in high-value casino chips, while casino staff watch, in 2015. Global News

But Li repeatedly denied that she knowingly broke money laundering rules while doing “errands” for River Rock high rollers.

And she denied the claim that Jin made in a B.C. civil court real estate lending case. Patel told Li the claim says Li introduced the “head of a merchant association from Nanjing” to Jin before Jin entered a lending contract with the borrower, a Mr. Xu.

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“Did you introduce Mr. Jin to Mr. Xu and his wife, as stated in paragraph six (of the claim)?” Patel asked.

“No, because I don’t know Paul Jin,” Li said. “The document … said I’m the one that introduced a player to Paul Jin. (But) the commission can read any of my communications. I’m telling this under oath. I don’t know this person.”

The inquiry continues this week with an “in camera” hearing that will proceed under witness protection guidelines.

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