The former head of the RCMP Integrated Proceeds of Crime Unit told B.C.’s public inquiry into money laundering Thursday that despite widespread belief international organized crime was filtering money through the province’s casinos, there was no political will to stop it.
Barry Baxter told the Cullen Commission that when he took command in 2010 he had no doubt organized crime groups were using casinos to launder cash.
“$400,000 Canadian 20s is 20,000 $20 bills. Where do you get that? You can’t generate that in a business,” he told the commission.
Baxter testified he tasked a special money laundering unit to try and trace the cash heading into casinos.
Police believed Asian Triads saw it as an easy way to clean their dirty money, even offering up the service to Mexican drug cartels and Middle Eastern crime groups operating across Canada.
“It was the Asian groups that were the facilitators for the other ones as the bulk deposit area,” he testified. “Everybody would get their money back.”
Baxter said with the full support of his superiors, the issue was made a top priority for the special money laundering unit.
He also had no problem telling the media at the time what was happening in casinos didn’t smell right.
“We were all of the same mind, this has to be dirty money. There is something wrong here,” Baxter said.
One person who did not agree, the commission heard, was Rich Coleman, the B.C. minister responsible for gaming at the time.
“He did not agree with what I had said, and further that he had spoken to my superiors and they agreed,” Baxter said.
Baxter said he would later get a call not from his direct federal superior but Craig Callens, then-assistant commissioner of the B.C. RCMP.
“It was a bit of an unusual statement, to ‘know my audience,’ and I’m not really sure what he meant by that,” he said.
Baxter told the commission he offered Callens a full briefing on the casino investigation, but that it was declined.
Instead, he was directed not to speak with media again, he told the inquiry.
Shortly after the B.C. Lottery Corporation came calling to meet about the RCMP’s money laundering concerns.
“The standard response, despite very good discussion, was ‘We just don’t agree with you.’ And at one point the statement was made, ‘Neither does the minister.'”
Baxter said BCLC’s explanation was that once a patron with bundles of cash came back more than once, it was no longer suspicious — they were just wealthy VIPs based offshore.
“They didn’t come here with $460,000 in Canadian 20s. They got that money somewhere and we believe it’s from criminal activity,” he told the inquiry.
Despite Baxter’s concerns federal RCMP restructuring see the Integrated Proceeds of Crime Unit disbanded in 2013.
The casino money laundering investigation was dropped, and the priority shifted to terrorism and national security.
“I said, boy, I think this is going to come back and bite us,” he told the commission.
In the years following, the stacks of suspicious cash flowing into B.C. casinos would skyrocket, a serious threat Baxter observed from day one, allowed to spiral out of control.