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

The Province - - News - MICHAEL SMYTH twit­ter.com/MikeSmythN­ews msmyth@post­media.com

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.

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