Public inquiry into criminal money laundering told that the RCMP acted like a BC Liberal minister’s ‘puppets’
With most of the world’s attention focused on the United States last week, you may have missed a few developments in British Columbia’s inquiry into criminal money laundering, featuring damning testimony against the old BC Liberal government.
Rich Coleman, BC’s former public safety minister, has emerged as a central figure following reports earlier this year alleging he shut down an RCMP unit tasked with investigating illegal gambling in 2009, shortly after being informed that a suspected gangster had bought a stake in a casino owned by the BC Lottery Corp.
During last Thursday’s hearing of the commission, retired RCMP officer and former head of the illegal gaming task force Fred Pinnock shared his recollection of a 2009 conversation he had with then-BC Liberal Minister, Kash Heed.
Here are some highlights from Pinnock’s testimony:
Pinnock alleges Rich Coleman was “largely responsible”
Pinnock told the inquiry that Coleman was “largely responsible” for money laundering linked to organized crime running unchecked in BC’s casinos.
Recalling a 2009 conversation he had with then solicitor general Kash Heed, Pinnock explained: “Heed confirmed my perception … and he did feel that Rich Coleman had created this.”
“It’s all about the money”
According to Pinnock, Heed said he believed Coleman refused to act on warnings about criminal money laundering activity because of the government revenues generated through gambling.
Pinnock was asked directly by commission team member Patrick McGowan during the hearing what, if anything, was being done about organized crime in BC casinos when such activities came to the BC Liberal government’s attention.
Pinnock said: “No, because it’s all about revenue generation … I believe (Kash Heed) told me it’s all about the money.”
RCMP officers were “puppets for Rich Coleman”
McGowan also asked about the involvement of “senior RCMP members” with the issues being discussed. Pinnock said Heed didn’t “get into details” but that he “named three or four officers, including Dick Bent … and that was the extent of his reference to senior police involvement.”
However, when pressed for further details about the context in which Heed referred to the officers involved, Pinnock replied: “The context was it was a game being played by senior police officers who were, I think the term he used were ‘puppets for Coleman’.”
Pinnock identified two other officers: Al MacIntyre, then assistant commissioner, and Gary Bass, the deputy commissioner. Pinnock said he did not call any of these officers to voice his concerns about money laundering.
Pinnock also said he did not recall contacting anyone else in the BC Liberal government besides Heed and his then-girlfriend and former BC Liberal MLA, Naomi Yamamoto.
“Brutal” and “embarrassing”
As reported back in in January, Coleman shut down the RCMP unit tasked with investigating illegal gambling in 2009.
Pinnock told the commission Thursday that after the unit was disbanded, he initially tried to arrange a meeting through Yamamoto with Coleman to express his concerns about gang activity in casinos.
However, the former RCMP officer explained, Yamamoto said that Coleman dismissed her request in front of fellow BC Liberal caucus members in a manner that was “brutal” and “embarrassing.”
It was that rejection that led to Pinnock’s subsequent conversation with Kash Heed.
“He tried to crush my hand”
In one of the more bizarre moments in Pinnock’s testimony, the former RCMP officer alleged that Coleman “tried to crush” his hand as an intimidation tactic during a 2010 BC Liberal Party fundraiser.
“I extended my hand to shake, and he’s a big fellow,” Pinnock said. “He tried to crush my hand. I took that as a message to me.”
Coleman did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress about the testimony. The former BC Liberal minister has previously denied that he turned a blind eye to money laundering.
Coleman retired from politics prior to BC’s recent election. However, he was not the only senior BC Liberal politician to be implicated in the old government’s inaction.
As late as 2013, former BC Liberal finance minister and recently re-elected MLA Mike de Jong increased betting limits betting limits in BC Lottery Corp casinos, despite warnings about money laundering from the province’s gambling regulator.
On Monday, the commission heard from former BC Lottery Corp investigator Mike Hiller, who said he repeatedly told his company superiors that he believed casino VIPs were gambling with cash from organized crime.