British Columbia·Point of View

How CBC journalists laundered $24K at B.C. casinos

CBC’s investigations from 2008 were lauded in last week’s blistering report on money laundering in B.C.

CBC’s 2008 investigations lauded in last week’s blistering report on money laundering

From the left: CBC reporter Eric Rankin, associate producer Paisley Woodward and intern Teresa Tang divide CBC cash to launder at a B.C. casino. (CBC)

In May 2008, I found myself staring into the bright glow of a slot machine, a thick wad of $20 bills in my lap, wired with a hidden camera and armed with a mission to "launder" thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.

I didn't lose a penny. But I found a major story — that it was surprisingly easy to launder money through slot machines at provincial casinos..

As an investigative producer working for CBC News in Vancouver, I'd been reading through a stack of records documenting suspected criminal activity at B.C. casinos.

This is just part of a stack of freedom of information reports CBC investigative producer Paisley Woodward uncovered in 2008. (CBC)

It had taken four years to wrest records from the government.

Casino employees are required to red flag potential crimes to the B.C. government. I was suddenly reading about large and suspicious cash transactions.

The work that we produced back then reverberates still. This week, our CBC reports into money laundering were among the "stellar investigative journalism" cited by Peter German in his review of money laundering in B.C. casinos.

Investigation lauded in last week's Peter German report on B.C. casinos 4:55

Hitting the jackpot

What set us on this path?

In 2004, we'd aired a story about loan sharks operating at a major B.C. casino.

Security staff were alleging they'd been directed by their bosses to point security cameras away from loan sharks on the floor. They contended the casino didn't want a record of their presence. That way, it wouldn't have to report anything to regulators.

Petrovich, Woodward and Tang walk into a B.C. casino to launder money. They were able to do so with most of it. (CBC)

That got us curious. What records of criminal activity had casinos been filing with the B.C. government? I thought these records would be impossible to get. Nonetheless, we filed a Freedom of Information request.

The government fought hard. After four years, we won. Then-commissioner David Loukidelis ruled in our favour.

We hit the jackpot.

Undercover cameras

As I was poring through these documents, our team of journalists decided we should test the system for ourselves. We decided to go out with undercover cameras and see how easy it might be to launder money through the slot machines.

We had learned of a case in Ontario where the RCMP had exposed criminals for doing this at the slots.

We thought it might be difficult to persuade our bosses at CBC here in B.C. to hand over thousands of dollars of the corporation's money to run through the slots.

But it turned out our colleagues at CBC Ontario had been planning the same thing there and had already received the green light.

We got the OK to use $30,000 and try to launder it through two B.C. casinos.

A CBC investigation found that three undercover journalists were quite easily able to trade cash for cheques at a casino. (CBC)

Three of us — me, national radio reporter Curt Petrovich, and then-intern Teresa Tang — divied up the cash. Reporter Eric Rankin waited for us outside.

Here's how we'd do it: Plug $20 bills into a slot machine. Just play a couple of rounds, and then "change our minds" and cash out. We knew that instead of returning our money, the slots would print off a cash voucher.

We'd take those vouchers to the casino cashier to be redeemed for cash. We figured if we gathered up enough of those voucher slips — like the criminals had in Ontario — the casino might return our money in the form of a cheque.

A casino cheque is good for criminals, because to the outside world it's presumed to be winnings and therefore legitimate

'I was petrified'

When we first went to Great Canadian's Grand Boulevard Casino in Coquitlam (now the Hard Rock Casino), then to Gateway's Grand Villa in Burnaby, I was petrified, worried we'd get caught.

There were security cameras everywhere,  including right overhead. Staff were strolling around. Wasn't our behaviour bizarre? Wouldn't they notice that we were robotically feeding piles of twenties into the slots, then bailing?

Curt and Teresa played it cool. Curt just chewed away on his gum as he methodically inserted bill after bill into the machines.

Sometimes he'd even win. I didn't.

Undercover video shows CBC reporter Curt Petrovich playing slots at a B.C. casino to show how easily he was able to launder money. (CBC)

At Great Canadian, it was a cinch. We quickly converted $15,000 into cheques. All we had to do was provide the cashier with our driver's licences.

The Gateway Casino was stricter.

Curt easily got his vouchers turned into a cheque for $9,000. But I was told I didn't have enough vouchers to warrant a cheque. Teresa was turned down flat: Her cashier wanted proof the vouchers represented verified prize money.  

So, of that $30,000, we laundered $24,000 into "clean money," an 80 per cent "success" rate.

Investigation prompts review

The story grabbed the attention of the provincial NDP opposition.

New Democrats hammered the then-B.C. Liberal government for two days during question period at the Legislature.

Solicitor General John van Dongen acknowledged the casinos had failed, and ordered the BC Lottery Corporation to beef up its money-laundering procedures.  

And the $30,000 we started out with? We promptly returned our cheques and cash to CBC. We actually had net winnings — of just over $100.

That money was donated to the Vancouver Food Bank.

With files from Eric Rankin

About the Author

Paisley Woodward

Paisley Woodward is an award-winning investigative producer at CBC Vancouver. Before coming to CBC she was a Crown prosecutor. She earned her law degree at UBC.