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BC Liberal minister blocked money laundering probes, ex-Mountie says

Last Updated Nov 6, 2020 at 1:21 pm PDT

FILE - Commissioner Austin Cullen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Former Mountie testifies he was told the provincial government had no real interest in stopping money launderers

Fred Pinnock gave that damning testimony Thursday at the Cullen Commission inquiry

NDP-government crackdown in 2017 created a 'ghost town effect' in casinos, inquiry hears

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A Mountie-turned-whistleblower said he was hamstrung by his superiors and provincial counterparts and prevented from investigating dirty money in B.C. casinos.

Fred Pinnock, who led the Integrated Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team (IIGET) from 2005 to 2008, testified to the Cullen Commission of Inquiry Into Money Laundering in B.C on Thursday.

He said he was informed of an “escalating level of criminal activity in casinos” early in his IIGET in his tenure but was prevented from doing anything about it.

“Loan-sharking was a big concern and there [were] frequent references to money laundering as well,” Pinnock said.

‘Out-of-control organized criminal activity’

Pinnock said the BC Liberal government of the day was uninterested in cracking down on “out-of-control organized criminal activity” in casinos because it was worried about the impact it would have on its revenue.

The former Mountie told the commission he presented a business case in 2007, seeking the resources to investigate the dirty money, but it was ignored.

Pinnock said his Burnaby-based team of fewer than a dozen investigators shared an office with B.C.’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), but the two units were never truly integrated.

There were yelling matches and it got so bad, Pinnock said, he had to move his team to a separate office across the hall.

Relationship with B.C. team ‘never healthy’

“We were all to blame, GPEB [and] the RCMP, in terms of not being able to hammer out a proper and effective working relationship. It was never healthy from the day I arrived until the day I left,” Pinnock said when questioned by a lawyer for the Government of Canada.

That sour relationship prevented IIGET from pursuing “high-level” investigative targets. Rather than going after money laundering, loan-sharking, and drug dealing in B.C.’s licensed casinos, Pinnock said his team was stuck with “mid-level” targets, such as illegal slot machines, dog fighting, and back-room card games.

Pinnock, who reported to senior RCMP officers and a consultation board, said he raised concerns about these issues, but his words fell on deaf ears.

“I don’t feel the consultative board particularly cared about this unit, and I don’t feel that my superiors particularly cared,” he testified.

‘Public safety was not a priority’

He said the message was clear: “We do not expect big things from you,” although he admitted that was never explicitly said to him by anyone on the board.

“Public safety was not a priority of my superiors with respect to gaming, in my opinion,” Pinnock said.

After retiring in 2008, Pinnock said he tried to arrange a meeting with then-gaming minister Rich Coleman, through his then-girlfriend Naomi Yamamoto, a fellow BC Liberal cabinet member.

According to Pinnock, Yamamoto said she raised the issue with Coleman, but it was was refused with comments that were “brutal and dismissive and embarrassing to her.”

Neither Coleman nor Yamamoto responded to requests for comment on Thursday.

Pinnock said he later had a meeting with then-Solicitor General Kash Heed, who confirmed his suspicion that Coleman didn’t want to investigate money laundering in casinos because it was “all about the money.”

Heed told NEWS 1130 he expects to be called to testify to the commission,  which might bar him from speaking to media.

Pinnock is scheduled to continue testifying to the commission on Friday.

Crackdown created a ‘ghost town’

Earlier today, the inquiry also heard an NDP-government-ordered crackdown in 2017 created a “ghost town effect” in casinos.

Daryl Tottenham, an investigator for the BC Lottery Corporation, testified all gamblers — not just high-end players linked to organized crime — stayed away and casino revenues dramatically dropped, but that only lasted a few weeks.

Commissioner Austin Cullen is leading the inquiry, which was launched by the NDP government after reports that illegal cash was helping to fuel the real estate, luxury car, and gambling sectors in B.C.