Tuesday, February 25, 2020

This story of a whistleblower ignored, helped kick off B.C.’s money-laundering inquiry

Commissioner Austin Cullen, back centre, listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Monday, February 24, 2020.

This story of a whistleblower ignored, helped kick off B.C.’s money-laundering inquiry

VANCOUVER—Muriel Labine was working as a dealer at a British Columbia casino in the 1990s when she began to notice a dramatic increase in cash flow on the floor.
Thousands of dollars were being played in a single five-minute game and dozens of loan sharks prowled the casino every day.
“Their presence was so ubiquitous that staff members came to know their faces and street names,” said Stephanie Smith, of the B.C. Government Services Employees Union.
Smith was recounting Labine’s story on Monday for two dozen lawyers and commissioner Austin Cullen, who is investigating money laundering in B.C.
Labine told her managers what she was seeing, but they ignored her concerns, said Smith.
Labine was later fired for trying to unionize her co-workers at the casino, according to Smith.
Labine’s story — first reported by Global News in 2019 — shows the gaming industry and government officials have failed to take money-laundering seriously until recently, said Smith.
“Efforts by workers to blow the whistle on illegal activity in the gaming sector have been blocked, by managers and even elected officials, with whistleblowers facing sanctions up to and including dismissal for speaking up,” said Smith.

Whistleblower warned B.C. casino in 2000 of alleged ‘co-operation with organized crime’

02 may  2019
Source:  globalnews.ca

Whistleblower warned B.C. casino in 2000 of alleged ‘co-operation with organized crime’
© Global News Large volumes of suspicious cash being processed at a B.C. casino.

A Great Canadian Gaming employee who was concerned about workplace safety informed the company’s founder that she felt staff had to “accept doing business year after year with what most certainly appears to be some level of co-operation with organized crime,” according to documents obtained by Global News.

Former Great Canadian dealer supervisor Muriel Labine sent the complaint letters in January 2000 to the company’s founder and then-president, Ross McLeod.
McLeod’s responses acknowledged “potentially serious allegations in the Richmond casino” and claimed that senior management was working with the RCMP and B.C. Lottery Corporation in an ongoing investigation.

In extensive interviews with Global News, Labine explained how she first noticed what she believed were loan sharks flooding the Richmond casino with suspicious cash after May 1997, when the NDP government first introduced baccarat and raised casino betting limits from $25 to $500.
According to allegations in Labine’s records, some staff believed the dominant loan-sharking gang in the Richmond casino was the Big Circle Boys, a powerful, transnational heroin-trafficking cartel rooted in China, Macau and Hong Kong. The Big Circle Boys are the Asian organized crime kingpins, a Global News investigation has found, responsible for the so-called Vancouver Model of underground banking, which some police believe is driving Vancouver’s housing affordability and fentanyl overdose crisis.
With ties to Hong Kong underground banks and drug supply in Burma, the Chinese Big Circle Boys control North America’s heroin trade, according to federal records obtained by Global News. And now, with connections to officials and factories in China, they also dominate the illicit fentanyl trade, police sources say.

Labine said she and others made complaints about the Big Circle Boys to management.
But she alleges staff concerns about gangs — and suspected loan sharks that she called the “Boys” — were constantly brushed aside.
“By 2000, January, I knew that I was no longer wanting to work in this place, that I could no longer be part of money laundering,” Labine recalled. “So that’s when I wrote the letter to Ross McLeod and told him I wanted to leave, I would like a severance.”
It was an extraordinary step, she says, for an employee to escalate a complaint to the company president.
“The 'Boys' were in the casino, by this point, for two and a half years,” Labine explained. “I had seen the casino was making a lot of money across the tables and I suspected it was drug money.”
On Jan. 5, 2000, Labine wrote her first letter to McLeod.
“As you may know, I am currently on a medical stress leave from our Richmond location. In light of all the ongoing activities within our casino, from allegations of sexual harassment to what certainly appears to be illegal activities surround the various ‘gangs,’ I find it at this time very difficult to put myself in an environment which I consider to be unhealthy and unsafe," the letter read. "I find it most unacceptable that I am put in a position by the company where I must accept doing business year after year with what most certainly appears to be some level of co-operation with organized crime.”

In a series of responses that January, McLeod asked that Labine provide specific details on “illegal activities surrounding the various 'gangs'” and “whatever information you have with respect to levels of co-operation with organized crime.”

Vancouver's Parq casino looks to refinance amid debt pressure

Vancouver's Parq casino looks to refinance amid debt pressureThe company that owns Parq Vancouver, which opened in 2017, has deferred payment on a loan twice.
“I realize that your lack of knowledge and information of management and actions taken regarding possible criminal activities has given you the perception of a lack of commitment by the company to solve these problems,” a Jan. 13, 2000 response from McLeod states.

READ MORE: Fentanyl kings in Canada allegedly linked to powerful Chinese gang, the Big Circle Boys

On Jan. 17, 2000, Labine responded: “(Some staff members) have kept notes over a considerable space of time. The incidents that we observed were not isolated but repetitive. They continued day after day, week after week and year after year. Money and chips changed between the ‘Boys’ and their clients repeatedly throughout day and night. These exchanges might be as low as a few hundred dollars to $10,000 in one transaction.”
Labine’s letter alleged that staff complaints “reporting this kind of activity resulted in variations of the theme, ‘How do we know they’re not friends?’ This was the standard retort. We reported suspicious activities repeatedly, and no action was taken.”
“I spoke confidentially with various members of security who were also appalled with the situation, and they confided individually that we were dealing with more than one 'family,'” Labine wrote. “The Big Circle Boys being one of the families.

‘Pissed off’: How Port Coquitlam’s mayor feels with no money laundering inquiry amid new allegations

‘Pissed off’: How Port Coquitlam’s mayor feels with no money laundering inquiry amid new allegationsPort Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said the latest allegations are further proof the issue needs to move away from politicians and out into the open.
“Two (managers) talked privately with me and admitted we were dealing with gangs.”

'Suspected criminal activities'

About a month after Labine’s initial complaint, McLeod replied with a detailed response. The letter indicates McLeod had investigated Labine’s claims and spoken with Great Canadian's then-VP Adrian Thomas, the manager who had previously handled Labine’s complaints.
“In your letter, you expressed difficulty in believing that I would not have been informed of what appeared to be illegal activity in our casinos,” McLeod wrote in February 2000. “To the contrary, I have been kept advised on the whole situation since its inception.”
Contrary to Labine’s allegation that the company was ignoring her complaints, McLeod’s letter claims Labine and associated union organizers were informed multiple times that Great Canadian Gaming was “fully aware of the problem” and had “initiated contact with and worked with BCLC, RCMP and the Vancouver police since the beginning of suspected criminal activities.”
B.C.’s Ministry of the Attorney General says that it is not in a position to confirm either the investigation to which McLeod refers or Labine’s complaint.

READ MORE: B.C. Liberal minister intervened to raise betting limits, ignoring money laundering warnings about Chinese VIPs

“BCLC does not have investigations records relating to Richmond and the 1998-2000 time period referenced,” a statement from the B.C. Lottery Corporation said. “Therefore, we are unable to confirm, nor provide details of, any potential investigation as outlined in your request.”
Great Canadian Gaming would not respond to questions about the investigation cited in McLeod’s letter or Labine’s allegations. The RCMP also did not answer repeated requests for comment on the purported investigation.
The Labine documents could be problematic for the current NDP government because they suggest the government opened the gates to Macau-style casino money laundering in 1997 without having the proper regulatory structure or gambling laws in place.
“We cannot speculate on these allegations as (B.C.’s) Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch (GPEB) did not exist in 1997,” Liam Butler, a spokesman for B.C.’s Ministry of the Attorney General, said in response to questions for this story. GPEB was created in 2002 under new gaming laws, Butler said, and the B.C. Lottery Corporation took control of B.C. casinos in June 1998.
“When these events allegedly occurred, gambling regulators primarily used paper records with unknown retention schedules,” Butler said.
A Global News analysis of the history of B.C.’s Macau-style casino money laundering suggests that the B.C. Liberals adopted the NDP’s casino revenue model after they took power in 2001 and compounded on the problems started by the NDP government. Bet limits on baccarat — the game favoured in Macau casino money laundering — were raised repeatedly, starting at $500 per hand in 1997 and eventually growing to $100,000 per hand in 2014.

READ MORE: Nearly $2 billion in dirty money may have flowed through B.C. casinos, far more than official estimates

Union organization 'extortion'

The February 2000 McLeod letter suggests Labine was driven by an agenda and that her allegations stemmed from a frustrated attempt at union organization. The letter says a B.C. Government Employees Union representative had informed a lawyer for Great Canadian that according to Labine, the Richmond casino manager Thomas had told her to “leave it alone” when she complained about gang activity.
McLeod’s letter, though, says Labine took the conversation with Thomas out of context and omitted the most important point: that Great Canadian was aware of and investigating suspected problems in the casino.
McLeod’s letter alleged that in multiple conversations between the BCGEU representative and Great Canadian labour lawyer, “it was strongly suggested by the union representative that Mr. Thomas and thereby the company should issue voluntary recognition to the BCGEU rather than have the issue of ‘loan sharking’ and ‘money laundering’ appear in the media.”
“A total of four telephone conversations were transcribed and reviewed by lawyers who viewed the contents to be possible extortion,” McLeod’s letter alleges.
The issue culminated in a March 19, 1999 meeting at Great Canadian head offices involving two union representatives, the Great Canadian lawyer and Thomas, according to the letter.
“In the meeting, Thomas asked (the union representative): ‘If we voluntarily recognize you, does this (expletive) about the crime stuff go away?’” McLeod’s letter claims. “(The union representative) immediately answered yes.”
Great Canadian Gaming would not comment on McLeod’s letter or this allegation. In an interview, Thomas maintained that he believed the union representatives tried to extort Great Canadian.
“They were going to take it to the Richmond Review,” Thomas said. “And I said: ‘You are perfectly entitled to do that, but I tell you what, you’ll get your a** sued off.’”
Thomas reiterated that he believes Labine “hated” him and had an agenda against the company because she was denied a promotion to head office, and her efforts to organize a union at the Richmond casino failed. This is the reason, according to Thomas, that Labine has twisted the truth. Labine, however, insists she is coming forward 20 years later with nothing to gain other than holding B.C.’s government to account and telling the truth.
In a statement to Global News, BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said she was with the union in March 1999 and that she was aware of the effort to organize the Richmond casino. But she was not involved in the campaign, Smith said, and could not corroborate the events that McLeod’s letter alleged.
“Unfortunately, I also can’t dispute it with documentary evidence — none of the individuals named work for the BCGEU currently, and according to our record management policies, we destroy documents after seven years unless there is a specific reason to retain them,” Smith’s statement said.
However, Smith stated: “The alleged behaviour is entirely inconsistent with my experience as a front-line activist … (and) would have been then — and would be now — utterly antithetical to the goals and objectives of any BCGEU organizing team.”
Smith said the information in McLeod’s letter underlines the BCGEU’s current position calling for a public inquiry into B.C.’s money-laundering scandal.
“What the letter does highlight is the long history of criminal activity — specifically, money laundering — in casinos, the very real threat that activity presented (and continues to present) for front-line casino workers,” Smith stated. “British Columbians deserve to know everything there is to know about that history, including how it has shaped our province’s current situation and how we protect ourselves moving forward. Only a broadly mandated, properly resourced public inquiry will accomplish that.”

Company acted appropriately

McLeod’s February 2000 letter concludes by informing Labine that since 1998, Great Canadian had banned, or caused B.C. Lottery Corporation to ban, 28 people “considered to be conducting non-gaming business in our locations.” Great Canadian Gaming knew of no casino staff harmed by the people Labine referred to as the “Boys,” according to McLeod.
“Ms. Labine, I am satisfied that senior management of Great Canadian Gaming have been aware of and have reacted positively to the situation you refer to as criminal activity.”
At this point, Labine says she ended her correspondence with McLeod.
“McLeod admitted, in that letter, that he had been aware of the situation since the very beginning,” Labine said in an interview. “The 'Boys' kept coming in, we kept doing business, that was it. The staff were put in a position where you had to smile and be nice to these gangsters.”

Reports that casino money laundering dates to 1990s more proof public inquiry is needed: B.C. Greens

WATCH: B.C.'s current NDP government has placed most of the blame for the casino-money-laundering scandal on the province's Liberal government, which took power after many of the allegations in this report. Richard Zussman has reaction from the province.
B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver says Global News reports showing money laundering in B.C. casinos goes back to the NDP governments of the 1990s are yet another sign a public inquiry into the issue is needed.
“What is most troubling is how this has been going on for so long in British Columbia with so little oversight and so little attention given to it,” Weaver said.
“There is no one person to blame. There are a multitude of issues here. And that will never get solved by a piece here and a piece there.”
WATCH HERE: Ex-B.C. casino worker blows whistle on timeline of alleged money laundering
The Green Party has been calling for a public inquiry for months, and Weaver says the party will continue to put pressure on the government.
“The article I read by Sam Cooper was very troubling,” Weaver said.
“I think more than ever we need a public inquiry. You will find our caucus will start raising this issue more and more over the next few days. We are getting troubled about the lack of movement on this issue.”
The B.C. government is expected to make a decision on the public inquiry by the end of May. The provincial cabinet is still reviewing the Mahoney Report and the German Report, both looking into money laundering in the Metro Vancouver housing market.
Premier John Horgan says he has not yet seen the latest report from Global News. He says his government is taking the issue seriously and is looking forward, not back.
“I think that what we need to do is stamp it out. We’ve taken steps, based on Peter German’s first report, to clean up the casino sector, but there’s much more work to do, and I just don’t know what the value is of going back two, three decades — or two decades, in this case — and saying, ‘Hey, that’s where it started,'” Horgan said.
WATCH HERE: Casino whistleblower’s documents suggest B.C.’s government opened the door to rampant money laundering
Horgan was responding to allegations brought forward by Muriel Labine, a former employee of the Great Canadian Gaming casino in Richmond, B.C. She was a dealer supervisor, monitoring the integrity of the gambling happening around her, and had hoped to work for Great Canadian until she retired.
Labine says that in May 1997, following the NDP government increasing bet limits from $25 to $500 per hand, there was a marked increase in VIP gamblers and high rollers coming into the casinos.
Current NDP Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth was the minister in charge of gaming in 1997.
“One of the reasons changes were taking place was because so many people were going to Washington state to play. And it was obviously, you know, we want to keep them,” Farnworth said.
“At that time we put in place the regulations that we felt were appropriate based on the best advice that we had at that time. Do I have a responsibility for those? Absolutely.”
WATCH (aired February 26): Green party calls for public inquiry into money laundering scandal
Horgan says there has been a huge public push for a public inquiry, and his cabinet has been carefully considering the two reports put forward. He said he doesn’t think the NDP’s involvement taints the work government is doing.
“We want to see accountability and consequences for the actions. And the absence of prosecutions has been a big, big issue,” Horgan said.
“That really is what upset the apple cart in our terms of what do we need to do as a government last fall, when the prosecutions were thrown out that we expected would lead to convictions.”
B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson blames the lack of prosecutions on the current government. It has long been argued that widespread money laundering took off under the Liberals’ watch and there were no prosecutions under their watch either.
“British Columbians want to see prosecutions,” Wilkinson said.
“A public inquiry won’t lead to prosecutions. Let’s find the bad guys, prosecute them and hopefully put them in jail. There has been a lot of talk and not a lot of action. We have seen all these stories put out by the NDP and there have been no results. It’s time for results.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments always welcome!