British Columbia

Gaming minister was focused on revenue, not organized crime, money laundering inquiry hears

A former RCMP officer turned whistleblower said a member of the B.C. Legislature told him back in 2009 that the province's gaming minister was well aware of the money laundering problem flourishing at casinos in the Lower Mainland but was more concerned with gaming revenue than he was with organized crime.

Former RCMP officer says MLA told him gaming minister was 'all about the money'

Rich Coleman, the former minister responsible for gaming, speaks to media on Feb. 15, 2017 in Victoria, B.C. The Cullen Commision has heard one of Coleman's fellow MLAs in 2009 said Coleman was more concerned with revenue from casinos in B.C.'s Lower Mainland than he was with fighting organized crime. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

A former RCMP officer turned whistleblower said a member of the B.C. Legislature told him back in 2009 that the province's gaming minister was well aware of the money laundering problem flourishing at casinos in the Lower Mainland, but was more concerned with gaming revenue than he was with organized crime.

Fred Pinnock, who was commander of the RCMP's illegal gaming task force, told an inquiry Thursday that he tried and failed to meet with Rich Coleman, the minister at the time, about "out-of-control" organized criminal activity.

He said he met with Kash Heed, then the solicitor general, instead. Pinnock said he told Heed he was "convinced" Coleman knew what was happening in casinos but refusing to act.

"[Heed] said to me, in effect, "That is what's going on, Fred, but I can't say that publicly. You know it's all about the money,'" Pinnock recalled at the hearing Thursday.

"He did refer to Mr. Coleman as being largely responsible for this, as well as senior Mounties who were complicit, and that's about all I can recall about that conversation."

Pinnock's testimony during the Cullen Commission referenced his conversation with Heed, as well as what he agreed was a "frustrating" experience in charge of the RCMP's Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) from 2005 to 2008. 

He recalled a "tense" relationship between his unit and the province's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB). Enforcement on money laundering and loansharking, he said, was lost in regular arguments over jurisdiction, bureaucracy and resources. Pinnock said his team "was not welcome" with GPEB or on the casino floor, despite the Mounties' foundational mandate to investigate criminal offences in gaming venues.

Pinnock said support from his superiors and the board was "a charade."

The officer retired early in 2008 after 29 years with the force and started speaking out publicly about money laundering.

By 2009, Pinnock was dating newly elected Liberal MLA, Naomi Yamomoto. He asked her to arrange a meeting with Coleman to speak about the criminal activity happening in casinos, but she came back and said Coleman had dismissed her. 

"She described his reaction as brutal and dismissive and embarrassing to her," said Pinnock, who is now married to Yamomoto.

The officer said his meeting with Heed took place over coffee or lunch that fall.

Pinnock said Heed named three, possibly four, "complicit" senior-level RCMP officers: Al MacIntyre, then the assistant commissioner, Gary Bass, the deputy commissioner at the time and Dick Bent, who was the chief superintendent.
Then-solicitor general Rich Coleman addresses the media in Victoria on June 27, 2001. Coleman took over the gaming file that year. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

"I think the term he used was, 'puppets for Coleman,'" Pinnock said.

Pinnock admitted he does not have notes or a recording of the initial conversation but said Heed repeated what he'd said in a more recent conversation.

Coleman disbanded IIGET that same year, saying the $1-million unit wasn't cost effective.

Money laundering flourished in B.C., hitting a peak in 2015.

A report in 2018 said a "collective systemic failure" cleared the way for unwitting casinos to become "laundromats" for proceeds of crime. The in-depth review said more than $100 million has likely been cleaned in B.C. over the last decade and a half.

The River Rock Casino pictured in in Richmond, B.C., on May 1, 2019. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The report didn't name names or blame specific individuals — but many demanded a response from Coleman, who took over the gaming file in 2001.

Coleman responded by saying he had never been "soft" on the issue, and that the province and law enforcement did the best they could.

"Never once did I ever say, 'Go easy on money laundering,'" he told CBC.

Hearings continue at the Cullen Commission next week. The inquiry is expected to finish in 2021.

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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