Two whistleblowers on money laundering say they’re disappointed with the findings of the inquiry into the crime’s pervasiveness and possible ties to corruption in British Columbia.
The Cullen Commission’s final report, published Wednesday, delved into cash from organized crime being filtered through the province’s casinos, real estate industry and elsewhere.
While it concluded the B.C. government, police and federal anti-money laundering agency didn’t do enough to stop the crime, the 1,800-page report did not detect evidence of corruption. The commission identified “staggering” levels of money laundering, and what Cullen himself described as a “failure of will” to deal with it.
“People need to go to jail for this,” Fred Pinnock, former commander of the RCMP’s illegal gaming taskforce, told Global News.
“It’s been my hope that there would have been support for criminal investigations to result from this exercise. I don’t see that happening and I don’t see the bad actors that gave rise to this nightmare of money laundering being held accountable to the extent they should be.”
Pinnock ran B.C.’s Integrated Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team, tasked with policing illegal casinos, from 2005 until 2008. He testified at the commission hearings that he repeatedly expressed the need to extend the unit’s mandate into B.C. Lottery Corporation casinos, and made a business case for the unit to target organized crime in government casinos.
There was little interest in his idea, he said in a previous interview, and he was effectively sidelined by RCMP leaders and retired. His unit was disbanded by the BC Liberals in 2009.
In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Pinnock said he took some “comfort” in knowing that, years after he first spoke up in 2006, others would come to share his view on the extent of the problem.
“I was driven by nothing other than a desire to contribute further to public safety by volunteering to be a witness, or, hopefully, an assent to the commission,” he said.
“I hope history will show that the public has been well-served by it. The case is still out for me.”
While formal participants in the inquiry were given legal representation to guard the risk to their reputations, Pinnock said he did not have fully funded legal counsel as a whistleblower testifying. If he had, he said, there would have been more rigorous cross-examination of “bad actors,” and possibly “bushels full of additional evidence” the commissioner could have considered.
“It felt like an unlevelled playing field. It felt like we were in the ring with one hand tied behind our back,” he said.
“I did my best to identify possible avenues for the commission to learn who was responsible for it, and I was rather taken aback by the line of questioning on several occasions.”
Another whistleblower, Muriel LaBine, said she supports the commission’s 101 recommendations, but thought some might be difficult to implement.
The inquiry called on the province to establish an independent commissioner to focus on anti-money laundering, amend the Mortgage Brokers Act and Real Estate Services Regulation, and force casinos to lower the threshold to $3,000 for requiring proof of a gambler’s source of funds.
“It fell short the most when it did not talk more about the revenue that the casinos made and how the people that are in charge of the casinos, how that affected their income,” said LaBine, who worked as a dealer supervisor in the 1990s for the Great Canadian Gaming casino in Richmond.
LaBine has said she’d see young men — loan sharks, she believed — bring clients in with them and pass the baccarat players bundles of $20 bills and casino chips. She figured the crinkled paper money, wrapped in elastic bands, wasn’t likely from a bank.
In 2019, she went public, sharing her handwritten journal of casino notes and B.C. Gaming Commission revenue documents that appeared to record the exact moment when Macau-style money laundering exploded in the province.
The Cullen Commission’s final report painted a similar picture, describing people arriving at Vancouver-area casinos with large bags of cash, usually in $20 bills. It also reported a new number: B.C. casinos accepted $1.2 billion in cash transactions of $10,000 or more in 2014 alone.
The finding of no evidence of corruption was a “shock,” Labine said, given how long money laundering has been a problem, and how little successive B.C. governments and police agencies have been able to crack down on it. She called the “lack of will” described by Cullen “nonsense” and a “ridiculous statement.”
“I felt betrayed,” she said in an interview. “For it to go on for 20 years and they just turned a blind eye to it? It’s very, very hard to reconcile with that — there being no payoff somewhere along the line.”
LaBine also said a closer look should have been taken at political donations to government parties from casino owners, service providers and staff.
“We can’t allow this to happen again,” she said. “We’ll put safeguards in, we’ll put roadblocks in — that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t going to find a way around the roadblocks, so we have to be vigilant and pay attention.”
The RCMP has said in a statement it is reviewing Cullen’s report, and participated fully in the inquiry.
B.C. Attorney General David Eby has said he is sure his colleagues in Ottawa would be disappointed by failures of the federal money-laundering regime described in the report. The provincial government will work on the recommended reforms, he added.
– with files from Sam Cooper and The Canadian Press