While debate continues over the effectiveness of efforts to eliminate money laundering through B.C. casinos, recent court documents filed by the province’s director of civil forfeiture suggest gambling facilities continue to be targeted by those looking to protect their ill-gotten gains.
The BC Lottery Corp. (BCLC) declined a request to be interviewed about the case, but stated in an email that it is “deeply concerned” by the allegations in the claim.
“It is completely unacceptable to BCLC that our facilities be used in any way to launder money. BCLC is not aware of all details or extent of the evidence the CFO [Civil Forfeiture Office] intends to use to prove its case. However, we are using the information we do have about the case to review our money-laundering countermeasures.”
Filed in BC Supreme Court on January 15, the director’s notice of civil claim names Michael John Mancini and Gerald John Collins and seeks forfeiture of $70,800 and a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro stemming from an incident last year.
On October 5, 2015, RCMP received reports of an erratic driver on Highway 1 travelling west toward Chilliwack, according to the lawsuit. Police later found the car at Chances casino on Young Road parked in a handicap spot with its interior lights still on as Mancini was walking toward the casino.
When the RCMP confronted Mancini, he was allegedly holding $3,775 in cash and “reported to RCMP spontaneously that he had won $300,000 playing slot machines at various casinos throughout British Columbia since March 2015,” the claim states.
In addition to the cash, the director claims, Mancini showed police a cheque for $13,250 made out to him from Lake City Casino. Police impounded the vehicle after Mancini allegedly failed a sobriety test. Police seized the vehicle and $45,395 as “offence-related property and proceeds of crime,” the lawsuit states.
A subsequent search of the vehicle on December 15, 2015 – this time with a warrant – turned up $25,405 in cash in addition to crack cocaine, several unspecified pills and prohibited radar detection equipment.
“Subsequent RCMP investigation determined that Mr. Mancini had actually been paid approximately $2,189,880 by British Columbia casinos between November 24, 2014, and October 11, 2015,” the claim states. “Mr. Mancini was attending casinos for the sole purpose of laundering the money.”
Collins was allegedly selling Mancini the vehicle at the time. In a response filed February 12, Collins and Mancini deny using the car for unlawful activity and claim the search was conducted without a warrant. In addition, the response notes that Mancini “was not charged with any criminal offence arising from the driving on that date nor from his possession of the money.”
“Mancini denies attending casinos for the purpose of laundering money,” the response states. “Mancini frequently attends casinos throughout British Columbia and is a legitimate and bona fide gambler. He won substantial amounts of money during 2014 and 2015 from entirely lawful gambling activities.”
The pair’s lawyer, Donald Muldoon, did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives from both the RCMP and the Civil Forfeiture Office declined to comment on the case, but the forfeiture office stated in an email that “any individual who claims an interest in property subject to civil forfeiture proceedings has an opportunity to tell their side of the story to a judge.”
For its part, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as Fintrac, received 1,508 “suspicious transaction reports” from B.C. casinos in 2015 and more than 36,000 “large cash transaction reports” that same year, according to Fintrac spokesman Darren Gibb.
However, Gibb said, the regulator is under tight restrictions about what information can be publicly revealed, admitting that Fintrac “cannot disclose whether or not a B.C. casino has been issued a penalty.”
Gateway Casinos, operator of Lake City Casinos, declined to comment about the lawsuit.
“As this matter is currently before the courts, and the particulars of the case have yet to be fully revealed, it would be inappropriate for us to comment. However, all Gateway Casino locations adhere to all policies and procedures for anti-money-laundering programs that are set out by our regulators,” Gateway public relations director Tanya Gabara said in an email.
The director of civil forfeiture seeks to seize the vehicle and $70,800 as proceeds of unlawful activity from the defendants. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court.