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. A former RCMP officer described by his lawyer as a whistleblower for investigating organized crime in casinos is scheduled to testify today at an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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. A former RCMP officer described by his lawyer as a whistleblower for investigating organized crime in casinos is scheduled to testify today at an inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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

2017 arrests tied to organized crime, illegal gaming led to dramatic dips in revenue at casinos

A former RCMP officer testified at an inquiry into money laundering Thursday that a British Columbia cabinet minister told him in 2009 that the gaming minister knew about organized crime at casinos but was more focused on the revenue they generated.

Fred Pinnock, who was in charge of the now-defunct illegal gaming enforcement team, testified 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.”

“I believe I said to him I’m convinced that Rich Coleman knows what’s going on inside those casinos,” Pinnock said. “And he confirmed my perceptions.”

Pinnock said Heed asserted Coleman was “largely responsible” for problems at casinos and named three or four senior RCMP officers who he alleged were complicit as “puppets for Coleman.”

He said the meeting with Heed was at a cafe or restaurant in Victoria in November 2009.

“Did you ask him whether, as the sitting solicitor general, he had directed any sort of enforcement response?” asked Patrick McGowan, a lawyer for the inquiry.

“It didn’t come up,” Pinnock replied.

Pinnock said he called Heed in July 2018 and secretly recorded the conversation before meeting with him in September that year, when he again recorded the former politician repeating his previous comments about Coleman.

Before he initially met with Heed, Pinnock said his then-girlfriend, legislature member Naomi Yamamoto, approached the gaming minister about arranging a meeting with him on what Pinnock alleged was “out-of-control organized criminal activity” at casinos.

“She told me that it was in a group setting and she described his reaction as brutal and dismissive and embarrassing,” Pinnock said. “My conclusion from that is that he did not want to be seen to be told.”

Yamamoto, who was minister of state for emergency preparedness before the B.C. Liberals were defeated in 2017, never discussed any caucus or cabinet issues with him, said Pinnock, who is now married to Yamamoto.

The NDP launched the inquiry after reports outlined how illegal cash was helping to fuel the real estate, luxury car and gambling sectors in the province. The province also commissioned three reports that said millions of dollars in dirty money flowed through those businesses.

Pinnock said his team was working in partnership with the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch but that was a “charade” and rising tension had him move his staff to a different area of the same building.

He told the inquiry his superiors’ expectations in working with the branch were to “play nicely, get along, we don’t expect big things from you.”

His attempts to investigate proceeds of crime, money laundering and loan sharking at casinos had him writing two proposals in 2007, the first to expand his team and the second to increase funding, Pinnock said, adding he did so at the direction of a senior officer.

However, he testified he doesn’t believe anything came of what he proposed and that he quit his job in December 2007 after two years of frustration. He retired from the RCMP the following year, and the illegal gaming enforcement team was disbanded in 2009.

Earlier Thursday, the inquiry heard the arrests of several people tied to organized crime and illegal gaming in 2017 led to dramatic reductions in revenue at casinos, but only temporarily.

Daryl Tottenham, manager of anti-money laundering programs for the B.C. Lottery Corp., testified casinos were like ghost towns for two to three weeks as high-end players and others stayed away.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

money laundering

Just Posted

File photo
Paramedic training returning to Castlegar

Emergency Medical Responder and Primary Care Paramedic training to take place in Castlegar

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

Portions of the Skattebo Reach Trail are being improved. Photo: Betsy Kline
Skattebo Reach Trail near Castlegar to become cycle friendly

Trail improvements geared towards cyclists being done in 2021

COVID-19 cases are once again dropping across the West Kootenay. Illustration: BC Centre for Disease Control
Ten new cases of COVID-19 in Nelson area

Numbers are steadily dropping across the West Kootenay

Katherine Shearer will be taking over as the SD20 superintendent. Photo: Submitted
SD20 superintendent Bill Ford to retire

Ford will be replaced by Katherine Shearer

From the left: Laura Greaves, Kyle Whyte and Steve Bigelow rescued a poisoned eagle Sunday, May 9. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
West Kootenay residents, Conservation Service Officer save poisoned eagle

CSO Kyle Bueckert released the eagle into the wild Thursday, May 13

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

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’

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

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana. The dam created the Koocanusa Reservoir, which straddles the B.C./Montana border. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Outflow at Libby Dam to be increased

Volume increase to aid migration and spawning conditions for endangered white sturgeon in the Kootenai River

Most Read