British Columbia casino money laundering team will cut crime, boost coffers

british-columbia-casino-money-launderingThe Canadian province of British Columbia is taking steps to reduce rampant gang activity and money laundering at its brick-and-mortar casinos.

On Monday, the province’s ruling Liberal government announced the formation of a new Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team that will be tasked with reducing the reams of bad press the Liberals have endured since they shut down the RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team in 2009.

That 2009 shutdown had been widely criticized, given that the team’s annual budget was a mere $1m. Since the shutdown, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the provincially-owned monopoly that oversees gambling operations in BC, has come under repeated criticism for its apparent disinterest in enforcing anti-money-laundering controls at its casino operations.

The new team will have an annual budget of $4.3m, 70% of which will come from BCLC. Critics have already suggested that BCLC’s dominant funding role should prompt more questions regarding the inherent conflict of interest of an entity tasked with both maximizing profits and enforcing regulations that interfere with those profits.

The new team, which has received a five-year commitment from the Liberals, will be overseen by 22 members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) and four investigators from the province’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch.

Kevin Hackett, COO of the CFSEU, said the new team’s mandate will include cutting down on the number of people “walking in [to BC casinos] with hockey bags full of money.” Casino patrons will also face restrictions on changing small bills into larger denominations and individuals under investigation will be subject to temporary casino entry bans.

Solicitor General Mike Morris said the new casino crackdown would benefit the province beyond burnishing its tarnished regulatory image, primarily through civil forfeitures of moneys suspected of being the proceeds of criminal activity.

For instance, the provincial Civil Forfeiture Office is currently waging a civil lawsuit against Salmon Arm resident Michael Mancini, who police arrested last October after a traffic stop turned up nearly C$71k in cash and casino checks, along with some crack cocaine and other dodgy pharmacological agents in Mancini’s vehicle.

It was later revealed that Mancini received payouts from BC casinos totaling just under C$2.2m between November 2014 and October 2015. Mancini’s defense claims he’s a “legitimate and bona fide gambler” who’s just really lucky playing slots.

Mancini has since been banned from BC casinos and the government is looking to keep the $71k. The government alleges that Mancini was “attending casinos for the sole purpose of laundering” drug money but has yet to charge Mancini with any crime.

Mancini’s defense attorney Don Muldoon told The Province that the pursuit of asset forfeiture in the absence of criminal charges presented a grim vision of the future. Muldoon said the government had “circumvented the entire criminal process” in that the burden of proof was no longer beyond a reasonable doubt but “merely proof on a ‘balance of probabilities.’”