Commissioner Austin Cullen, lawyer Brock Martland, and former cabinet minister and Langley East MLA Rich Coleman, as Coleman testified before the money laundering commission on Wednesday, April 28. (Screengrab)

Commissioner Austin Cullen, lawyer Brock Martland, and former cabinet minister and Langley East MLA Rich Coleman, as Coleman testified before the money laundering commission on Wednesday, April 28. (Screengrab)

Coleman deflects questions about money laundering in B.C. casinos at hearing

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about disbanding a gambling crime police unit

The issue of large cash transactions at B.C. casinos didn’t ever come up in Rich Coleman’s first five years as minister in charge of gaming, he testified Wednesday to the Cullen Commission’s money laundering inquiry.

Coleman was the MLA for Fort Langley-Aldergrove or Langley East from 1996 to 2020, and during the years the Liberals controlled the B.C. Legislature from 2001 to 2017, he was the cabinet minister in charge of gaming multiple times, including from 2001 to 2005.

Coleman described the previous regulations and system as one that was largely operated by small local charities with a few casinos. His ministry created new legislation that professionalized the industry, and before long, attracted new casinos such as the River Rock in Richmond, still the largest casino in the province.

“There’s no doubt that once you modernized, the revenue did go up from casinos,” Coleman noted.

Brock Martland, a lawyer working for the Cullen Commission, asked if the changes were made to generate money for the government, but Coleman said it was meant to modernize and strengthen a weak and dysfunctional gaming system.

“There was never a discussion that we needed to do this for money,” he said.

READ MORE: Inquiry hears gaming minister focused on money, not organized crime at B.C. casinos

The primary focus in the early years for enforcement around gaming in B.C. was illegal slot machines in bars and pubs, and loan sharking and general theft around the outsides of legal casinos, along with some concern about illegal gambling such as poker games, Coleman testified.

“None of the large cash transaction piece was ever brought to my attention,” Coleman said, referring to the reports that huge volumes of cash, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, was sometimes brought into B.C. casinos and converted into chips.

By 2008 to 2010, there were beginning to be questions from inside investigators and whistleblowers and, later, from the media about the big cash transactions.

Coleman was asked whether he recalled a 2008 meeting with Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch senior members in which he was allegedly told that the cash issue was keeping one senior official up at night.

“I do not,” Coleman said.

Despite the alleged concerns raised, the Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IGET), a five-year pilot project, was disbanded in 2009, under Coleman’s directive.

“It wasn’t that successful, it had trouble with focus,” Coleman said.

He noted that earlier that year, the government had announced the hiring of 168 new officers and 10 dedicated Crown prosecutors to go after guns and gangs.

The thought was that those new officers and prosecutors would pick up the slack from the disbanded IGET, which was about to lose its funding from BCLC.

He was also asked about an email that was sent to him in 2010, apparently by staff at the Edgewater Casino, that said there was a “see no evil hear no evil mentality,” there, with management ignoring loan sharking.

Coleman said he wouldn’t have responded to an email like that other than by passing it along to investigators, as there could have been an active investigation already.

Asked about the large amounts of cash, Coleman said that the difficulty was always proving which of it was illicit, criminal cash and what was legitimate.

One “issues document” – a briefing document given to cabinet ministers for use during budget debates – said in 2012 that patrons were asked for ID if they tried to bring in more than $9,000 in cash and had to give a “valid occupation.”

Other similar issue documents boasted that the province had a “robust anti-money-laundering regime in place.”

Coleman was asked if that was accurate, or if there was a component of “spin” in those documents.

“My assessment would be that it’s pretty accurate,” he said.

One way the government prevented money laundering in casinos was by simply giving back the same cash that had been deposited when large transfers were cashed out, Coleman said, which meant no laundering occurred.

However, media reports a decade ago indicated in at least one case casino staff provided a letter certifying that a six-figure sum of cash was legitimate casino winnings for at least one gambler.

In general, Coleman said he had to leave investigations to police and remain at arms length as minister in charge of gaming. He said he didn’t recall police ever specifically expressing concerns over resources to investigate such issues.

The Cullen Commission was formed in the wake of reports of huge amounts of illicit cash moving through B.C. casinos with few attempts to investigate the source of any of the funds.

An inquiry launched by the NDP outlined how illegal cash from organized crime was flowing through casinos, as well as the real estate and luxury car markets in Metro Vancouver.

Last November, Fred Pinnock, who was in charge of the now-defunct IGET, told the commission that he met with then-solicitor general Kash Heed, who is also a former officer he knew through policing circles for 35 years.

Pinnock said Heed told him that his concerns about illegal activities were legitimate but Rich Coleman, who was the gaming minister, was “all about the money.”

Coleman flatly denied that twice during his testimony.

He also said that an allegation Pinnock made about a crushing handshake delivered by Coleman during an encounter at a Liberal fundraiser “never happened.”

Pinnock was later grilled about his testimony by a lawyer for Heed, who suggested Pinnock’s memory of events was faulty.

Coleman has told the Langley Advance Times that he is confident the then-Liberal government did a good job with gaming during their tenure.

READ MORE: Witness’s memory questioned at B.C. money laundering hearing

The hearings are overseen by Commissioner Austin Cullen, a B.C. Supreme Court judge.


Have a story tip? Email: matthew.claxton@langleyadvancetimes.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC politicsLangleymoney launderingRCMP

Just Posted

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Kelowna RCMP adds 6 Mounties to Community Safety Unit

Community Safety Unit performs high-visibility uniformed patrols in the city’s public spaces

A preliminary rendering of the proposed LED marquee sign along Highway 97. (City of West Kelowna)
West Kelowna Warriors owner thinks 24-foot marquee could help game attendance

City council supportive of idea at first consideration

The manager and a worker at the Penticton Great Canadian Oil Exchange in front of the new sea-can. (Submitted)
Kelowna and Penticton oil recycling facilities get upgrades

The BC Used Oil Management Association provided grant funding for the upgrades

(Contributed/PadMapper)
Kelowna has Canada’s 7th most expensive rental market: report

PadMapper’s monthly rent report shows Kelowna residents pay, on average, $1,480 for a one-bedroom unit

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

KCR Migrant Support Worker, Javier, had an exciting day escorting his son Ian with him during ‘Take your Child to Work Day’!
KCR: Volunteering is being part of a whole

KCR Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The Maritime Kitchen Party is featured in the B-Side, the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre’s online series, May 13-16. (VDPAC photo)
B-Side keeps Okanagan musicians in Focus

Performing Arts Centre online concerts continue

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

The. B.C. Court of Appeal granted a retrial to former Vernon man William Schneider, convicted of second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Japanese exchange student Natsumi Kogawa. The trial is set to begin May 24, 2022. (Vancouver Police Department photo)
Retrial date set for former Okanagan man’s murder conviction

William Schneider’s trial, connected to the death of Natsumi Kogawa, is set for May 2022

Most Read