As British Columbia (BC), more than a decade later, still tries to get to the bottom of a massive casino money-laundering saga, it seems that there are more questions than answers being raised. The government-led inquiry, dubbed the Cullen Commission, into how hundreds of millions of dollars could have been allegedly laundered right under regulators’ and casino executives’ noses without their knowledge has shed light on a series of failures in the industry. However, it isn’t any closer to wrapping up. It might not be for some time to come, as certain people involved at the highest levels allegedly have a difficult time providing accurate and consistent stories. One of these is Rich Coleman, a former BC gaming minister, who seems to have trouble sticking to his story.
Show Me the Money Trail
Coleman, who was once accused of helping criminal organizations launder money through casinos, was ordered to return to the spotlight of the Cullen Commission last week. The commission was concerned over “discrepancies” in testimony he gave when he was testifying last month that didn’t match comments he made in 2011. Coleman had been in charge of BC’s gaming industry sporadically from 2001 to 2013.
One of the discrepancies centered on an investigative piece conducted by CBC News in 2011 that included RCMP Inspector Barry Baxter. He indicated at the time that the law enforcement body had begun suspecting casinos as a funnel for cartel drug money, yet Coleman derided the official publicly shortly after, even indicating that Baxter’s own superiors thought he might be out of line. Last month, however, when Coleman was testifying before the Commission, he stated he never spoke with Baxter’s superiors.
This is where Coleman reportedly showed off his dancing skills. When he returned to testify last week, he tried to assert that he had misspoken and that it was his staff who had contacted Baxter’s superiors. He asserted, “Sometimes in a live radio interview, you tend use a word versus another when you’re trying to do it as a minister on behalf of your entire [staff] … I should’ve used ‘we’ and not ‘I.'” However, he then added something else that didn’t help him justify his statements. He said, “It was just my feeling that his superiors wouldn’t agree with what he said or how he said it.”
Coleman Still Facing Scrutiny
It’s likely Coleman will find himself in hot water now that the truth has surfaced. As part of the ongoing investigation into how certain casinos allowed duffel bags full of $20 bills to be laundered, documents have been uncovered that show that Baxter always had the full support of his superiors. This was pointed out during the Commission hearings and a lawyer for the Commission, Brock Martland, hinted at the possibility that Coleman had, perhaps, been attempting to discredit the RCMP inspector. Coleman never apologized, only stating that he had “probably [gone] a little too far” and that he was “a bit unfair” to the officer.
Coleman is probably also going to have to explain other comments he has made during the commission. He said that addressing money-laundering issues at casinos wasn’t easy because of “complex legal issues” related to being able to prove wrongdoing. However, no one will believe that there’s anything complex about tracing CAD$460,000 ($379,000) in $20 bills that is presented to a casino cashier’s cage in exchange for chips, only to have those chips cashed out moments later. Baxter, who spent 34 years with the RCMP before retiring in 2015, had pointed this out in trying to get an investigation started, but was blown off by gaming regulators.