RCMP accused of 'willful blindness' over gaming problems

The former commander of British Columbia's now-defunct integrated illegal gaming enforcement team is questioning the provincial government's commitment to "meaningful" illegal gaming investigations.

In an exclusive interview, Fred Pinnock also described the RCMP's senior management in British Columbia as demonstrating "willful blindness" when it comes to the connection between illegal gaming and organized crime.

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And he said his provincially-funded RCMP team should have been expanded, not shutdown.

Pinnock, who retired as a staff sergeant in September 2008 after 29 years with the force, acknowledged airing his concerns will make him "unpopular with some of my former colleagues."

But he felt compelled to do so in part because he believes his team should have been keeping tabs on what happens inside legal gaming facilities rather than just cracking down on illegal gaming outside those facilities

"For the police not to have well-resourced law enforcement units dedicated to casino environments is very short-sighted in my opinion," he said.

Pinnock, now a managing partner with Lions Gate Investigations Group Inc., said the Ontario Provincial Police have three casino intelligence units that monitor, anticipate and prevent organized crime from becoming involved in that province's gaming facilities.

But he said there's nothing comparable in British Columbia, even though "other than correctional institutions, casinos have the highest density of organized crime figures anywhere.

Here, gaming facility employees and British Columbia Lotteries Corp. security report suspected criminal activities to local police and The Ministry of Housing and Social Development's gaming policy enforcement branch.

Local police are responsible for investigating those reports. Depending on the type of activity being investigated, they're assisted by the enforcement branch.

Pinnock acknowledged those at BC Lotteries and the enforcement branch are "very competent people."

But he questioned whether their "resources and mandate are sufficient to effectively target the criminal activity going on within these environments," noting they don't appear to have had much impact.

The reason: Pinnock said there hasn't been any big busts at casinos even though "it obvious that highly-pedigreed gangsters frequent these venues on a continuing basis."

"There's a ton of criminal activity being conducted in these places every day, including money laundering, loansharking and other enterprise crimes," he said.

The RCMP is "playing ostrich" about the problems inside legal gaming facilities, he concluded.

In response, the RCMP noted the enforcement team's mandate was "determined by the ministry of housing and social development" and that "tackling organized crime remains a strategic priority" for the force.

But Pinnock said senior management is only giving "token attention" to the illegal gaming problems outside legal gaming facilities.

"I don't think the RCMP is sufficiently aware of the very significant role that un-enforced gambling has in social decay," he explained, adding that most illegal gamblers are "addicted gamblers, with all the associated life impacts."

Instead, the force has focused on criminal activities that "keep them positioned to ensure the renewal" of their provincial policing contract in 2012, such as gang violence.

"It's hard to take issue with the RCMP's enforcement priorities, given all of the carnage on the streets of British Columbia," said Pinnock. "But a failure to aggressively target the criminal element involved in the gambling business will have far reaching consequences down the road. Police agencies must find the resources to address this issue."

As for illegal gaming, Pinnock said, during his two-and-a-half years as the enforcement team's commander, he had the impression government was more concerned about "the appearance of doing something" rather than "meaningful results."

"It seemed the way to remain in favour with government was simply to maintain a statistical, check-the-box-type, radar gun-level of enforcement and not meaningful targeting that would disrupt significant criminal activity," he explained.

But seven months after Pinnock's retirement, the team - which received its funding via a BC Lotteries sponsorship agreement - was quietly shutdown, its April 1, 2009 closure marked by nothing more than a footnote in the Crown corporation's financial statements.

The government has said it was more efficient for its enforcement branch inspectors to work directly with local police on illegal gaming issues.

And, on Wednesday, Solicitor General Kash Heed took issue with Pinnock's contention the government didn't seem interested in "meaningful" illegal gaming investigations.

"That's that individual's opinion," he said. "And he's entitled to his own opinion but not his own set of facts."

"I've given you the facts with respect to how we're dealing with illegal gangs and organized crime in British Columbia that are involved in this activity," he continued, noting the government's gaming policy enforcement branch "still has investigators that work closely with the RCMP to deal with significant issues around illegal gaming in this province,"

But, six months following the shutdown of his team, Mr. Pinnock said, "I'm not sure how motivated the provincial government was to have high-profile enforcement of illegal gaming in the province."

As for why, Pinnock didn't have an answer.

Although he added, "It was a very awkward marriage between the police and a government which benefited from gambling revenues."

As of Thursday, the RCMP hadn't responded to requests for comment.

The government did not respond by deadline.

Sean Holman is editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com). He can be reached at editorial@publiceyeonline.com.

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