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MAXED OUT: You can’t make this stuff up…

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Stories are told about the days of yore in Tiny Town when money laundering was big small business for Harry McKeever. Actually it was laundering money, as in money earned by owning the town’s only laundromat, the eponymous Dirty Harry’s Laundromat.

Harry, it’s said, lugged around sacks of coins earned from his earlier vending machine business and the coin-operated laundry machines. It sounds a lot like a client I used to have when I had clients. He owned apartment buildings and each was stuffed with vending machines and laundry rooms. His car, a big Cadillac of course, looked like it had been tricked out by some low rider because of the weight of all the coins in the trunk. It was, he said, a very lucrative, very cash business. Who’s to say otherwise?

Certainly not the former BC Liberal government, or so it seems.

Earlier this year, with nothing much to do because of the pandemic, Premier John Horgan launched the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in the province called the Cullen Commission. It’s called that because the Commissioner is Austin Cullen, BC Supreme Court Justice. Justice Cullen was appointed to the Court in 2001, around the time the Liberals under Gordon Campbell came to power, and was named Associate Chief Justice in 2011, around the time Christy Clark took over.

I can’t be sure that’s important, but at least it underscores the point that Justice Cullen is not, at least politically, beholden in any way to the current NDP government. Given some of the hair-raising testimony the Commission has heard, it might be, though. 

The Commission grew out of repeated reports that B.C. was a hotbed of money laundering—the act of turning tainted, as in criminally tainted, money into nice, clean money, the kind you and I might have after we get paid by our employers, assuming we don’t work for a criminal syndicate.

Its mandate, in as few words as possible, is to make findings about the scope and growth of money laundering in B.C., who might have acted or failed to act to keep it from happening or help make it happen, and how we might close down the laundry. 

Hair started rising rapidly last week when retired RCMP officer Fred Pinnock, testified that senior cabinet ministers in the Liberal government of the day were up to their eyeballs in suds. He testified not only was the government not interested in cracking down on organized crime’s involvement in money laundering at casinos, they were counting on it to fatten government coffers. 

I guess as provincial taxpayers we might find that admirable, but as my old friend Mark used to say, “We’re all just whores. The only difference is what we’re willing to do for money.”

Allegedly, what former solicitor-general and minister of public safety, Kash Heed, and the solicitor-general before that and deputy premier, Rich Coleman, were willing to do went beyond just turning a blind eye to money laundering. They are alleged to have embraced it and stymied efforts to thwart it.

It’s probably important at this point to say I’m not making this up. As a writer, if I submitted a story where two guys called Kash and Rich were senior government ministers with an alleged interest in facilitating money laundering, I’m pretty sure any editor with half a brain would make me change their names. Things like this made me give up writing fiction—I can’t make stuff up as good as it sometimes already is.

And as good as this is, it gets even better. Mr. Pinnock testified Mr. Heed’s hands-off attitude was put in place by Mr. Coleman and others in cabinet at the time. He also testified, wait for it, that senior Mounties were in on it. 

Let that sink in for a moment while I fight the urge to call Kash and Rich Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown.

OK, that’s better. Now if you’re wondering about Mr. Pinnock’s bona fides, he ran the RCMP’s illegal gambling enforcement team for a couple of years. He took medical leave late in 2007 and retired not long after, following 29 years with the force. He said he was fed up with his senior RCMP officers’ lack of support for his efforts to go after high-level money laundering through B.C.’s casinos, preferring instead to have him pursue hot cases of illegal bingo, slots, lotteries and other nickel-and-dime nonsense. I guess there’s only so much satisfaction you can take busting illegal 50-50 draws when you know a tsunami of offshore money is going through the spin cycle under your nose.

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the only instance of indifferent politicians and blind-justice law enforcement. The Commission also heard from another ex-Mountie out of Richmond who testified municipal politicians and his bosses wouldn’t approve a plan to form a unit to go after money laundering at the River Rock Casino. Nothing to see here, folks.

Naturally, Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown were unwilling to comment on Mr. Pinnock’s testimony. 

But I’m having a tough time getting my mind around the “Senior Mountie” angle in all this. The Mounties are a federal and national police force. They’re not beholden to provincial or municipal politicians. Why would senior Mounties play along with politicians who: a) don’t determine the arc of their careers; and b) would be serious notches on their guns if they brought them down for nonsense like this?

That leads me to two possible conclusions. Either Mr. Pinnock is mistaken about their involvement or there was some inducement other than their careers in play. The only way we’ll answer that conundrum is to follow the money and see where it leads.

I’m not optimistic the Cullen Commission will wind up putting striped prison garb on anyone. I’ve been to too many of these rodeos to believe anything like that will happen and, frankly, the Canadian criminal justice system is too timid for me to believe such an outcome is even possible, let alone likely. In the end, there will be lessons learned, apologies made, guilt avoided and justice frustrated and more likely than not, business as usual. 

Heck, it’s almost more likely the government of B.C. would embrace money laundering as a way out of the pandemic monetary blues. Come to think of it... Naw.

You can follow the Cullen Commission for yourself if you’re looking for true life, reality TV entertainment in these pandemic times, including archived video of previous sessions, at https://cullencommission.ca/



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