Court case shows that money laundering is rampant in B.C.’s casinos, NDP says
NDP accuses government of turning a blind eye to rampant money laundering
When police confronted Michael Mancini in the parking lot of the Chances Casino in Chilliwack last October, they thought they were dealing with a routine drunk-driving case.
They had stumbled instead onto an alleged money-laundering racket that’s now triggered a security review of slot-machine jackpot payouts in B.C. casinos.
It also sparked a courtroom battle between Mancini and the provincial government, which is trying to seize assets from the Salmon Arm man in civil court.
The government, through its Civil Forfeiture Office, claims the money represents the proceeds of crime, and Mancini was hitting multiple casinos to launder his ill-gotten loot.
But Mancini, who runs a small landscaping business, denies it all and says he’s just a lucky guy who won multiple slot-machine jackpots.
Lucky, indeed! According to court documents, Mancini was paid more than $2 million by several B.C. casinos last year.
Now the NDP is jumping on the case, accusing Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government of turning a blind eye to rampant money laundering in casinos.
“This is clearly bigger than one guy who happened to be stopped by traffic police,” said NDP critic David Eby. “It could be the tip of the iceberg.”
The amazing slot-machine saga began last Oct. 5, when police were told an erratic driver struck a concrete barrier and crossed onto a grassy highway median.
Police soon spotted a vehicle — covered with fresh concrete powder and grass stains — parked with its interior lights still on in a handicapped parking stall of the Chances Casino in Chilliwack.
Police confronted Mancini, who was walking away from the car toward the casino with $3,775 in cash in his hands.
“Mr. Mancini reported to RCMP spontaneously that he had won $300,000 playing slot machines at various casinos throughout British Columbia since March 2015,” says a statement of claim filed in court by the Civil Forfeiture Office.
Mancini then produced a cheque for $13,250 from the Lake City Casino in Kelowna. He failed a sobriety test and was arrested.
Police searched the car and found $10,535 in cash in the centre console, two more cheques on the floor from the Lake City Casino in the amounts of $9,005 and $6,830 and a roll of 100 $20 bills bundled together with a rubber band in the trunk.
Police later executed a search warrant on the vehicle and found $24,405 in cash under a stereo amplifier in the trunk, several large rocks of crack cocaine and a bottle of 40-50 pills hidden under the driver’s console, a flap containing 19 yellow pills under the driver’s carpet and illegal radar-detection equipment.
A narcotics-sniffing dog found drug residue on the money, the court document says.
“Mr. Mancini was attending casinos for the sole purpose of laundering the money,” the lawsuit alleges, saying a police investigation found Mancini was paid out $2,189,880 by B.C. casinos between November 2014 and October 2015.
Now the Civil Forfeiture Office wants to keep the money they seized from Mancini—a total of $70,800 in cash and cheques — as “proceeds of crimes.” The government also wants the car.
But Mancini denies the claims and says he’s just a lucky guy.
“Mancini frequently attends casinos throughout British Columbia and is a legitimate and bona fide gambler,” said a statement of defence filed in court. “Mancini denies attending casinos to launder money.”
Despite the serious allegations contained in the civil suit, Mancini has not been charged with any crimes — a situation that disturbs his lawyer.
“It’s an insidious process,” said Don Muldoon, a veteran defender who points out the civil courts require a lower burden of proof than the criminal courts.
“They’ve circumvented the entire criminal process and we’re now in the realm of civil law. It’s no longer ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt,’ it’s merely proof on a ‘balance of probabilities.’
“Do we want to live in a society where people who aren’t charged with any offence can have their assets seized?”
But the government isn’t backing down from the civil suit, which has now triggered a review of money-laundering safeguards in all B.C. casinos by the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC).
“BCLC is deeply concerned by the moneylaundering allegation in the Civil Forfeiture Office civil claim,” the Crown corporation, responsible for casinos, said in a statement.
“It is completely unacceptable to BCLC that our facilities be targeted in any way to launder money. We have used the information we do have about the case to review our moneylaundering countermeasures.”
The government’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch has launched a separate investigation into the case and said it is reviewing “whether any standards or controls of slotmachine play need to be enhanced.”
The government said it launched a major money-laundering crackdown on casinos five years ago. The measures included closer tracking of casino chips, tighter restrictions on large cash transactions, improved technology and staff training and increased co-operation among casinos, police and FINTRAC, the federal anti-money-laundering agency.
But Eby, the NDP critic, said it appears the measures are not working if traffic cops are stumbling onto alleged money-laundering scams while investigating drunk driving.
Eby called on the government to immediately bring in tough, new anti-money-laundering measures in casinos, including restoring the Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team, a specialized police unit shut down in 2009.
“The situation is inexcusable and cannot be allowed to continue,” Eby said.
Meanwhile, Michael Mancini, the lucky landscaper from Salmon Arm, has been banned from B.C. casinos.
B.C. regulatory agencies are concerned that casino slot machines may be used to launder cash from illegal activities.