2019.06.05

Former British Columbia casino supervisor acted as whistleblower suspecting money-laundering

Muriel Labine was quite fond of her job at the Great Canadian Gaming casino in Richmond, British Columbia

She had the role of a dealer, supervisor, where she had to monitor the integrity of all the gambling that was taking place around her. Since Labine liked her job, she wanted to work there till retirement. 

However, in May 1997, bet limits were increased from $25 to $500 per hand by the NDP government. Extended gambling hours were introduced along with baccarat tables. 

It is from here that everything changed according to Labine. 

She noticed that within few days VIP gamblers started to come to the casino. However, there was something strange about the whole thing. The high rollers always came with young men, who were Asian and they gave the rollers cash. These young men started being called “Human Teller Machines” by many employees in the Richmond casino. 

With Labine’s experience, she judged that they were loan sharks. They were seen bringing their own clients and sat with them at the tables. Not only this, they passed the players casino chips and bundles of $20 bills. 

She also judged that the money bills were wrinkled and enfolded in elastic bands. So they were not coming from the bank in any way. When there would be a shortage of money for the gamblers, the “human tellers” started making calls on their mobile phones and got very busy with different activities. 

As per Labine’s memory of these events and scenes, someone like an older Asian national would come at the casino carrying a plastic grocery bag. He was seen to be treated with great respect. The young “human tellers” would pick bricks of cash from the grocery bag. The gamblers were given a new bunch of $20s and the gambling game would resume. 

What happened in a few months is that the revenue almost doubled at the casino. But the increased revenue came at cost of fear and more cash increased the fear. 

After a time span of 20 years or so, Labine has decided to bring the documents forward, which include her handwritten casino journal notes from those times. She also brings revenue documents from the British Columbia Gaming Commission, in which there is record of the exact moment when Macau-style money-laundering became kind of an explosion in the economy of British Columbia. 

These records have been given exclusively to Global News and might cause problems for the present NDP government. However, this current government, along with the help of independent reviewer Peter German has been successful in shifting the blame for British Columbia’s casino and money laundering scam on the British Columbia Liberal government, which came to power in the year 2001. 

At that time in 1997, Labine did not know and understand what she was seeing. However, the documents that she produces help in providing an excellent historical record. It is possible to kind of see a view from the casino floor when scared casino staff saw the arrival of Macau casino gangs.  

Great Canadian Gaming was continually requested for responding in an interview to the various allegations which were made in the records of Labine. All the allegations have been reported in this article. 

There was only one comment in response from the company. They said that as a matter of policy, they will not comment on any kinds of employee matters. Also, when asked specifically to this request, they said that they fail to understand as how allegations as old as 20 years provide value to viewers and readers today. 

Big Circle Boys

Labine says that eventually she and the casino staff at Richmond casino gathered abundant information from security staff that the loan-sharking people of the Big Circle Boys and other Triads were dangerous co-workers. As per RCMP records, the Triads and Big Circle Boys were casino money laundering and drug-trafficking syndicates, which were closely linked to Hong Kong tycoons and Chinese officials. 

Labine started complaining to managers. As per her complaint record it shows that Labine said that staff of Richmond casino should not have to work with gangsters. But again and again the management of the casino had the same answer saying that they are just friends loaning money to friends, Labine recalled. 

She also says that the management would never use words like ‘gangs’, ‘money lenders’ or ‘loan-sharks’ in reference to the gangsters. Even when pressed hard, they denied these words and were not going to use them at all. 

When this happened for a long time, Labine made a change in her plan. In her records it has been seen that just like an internal investigator, she created an intelligence network. She made good rapport with the surveillance staff of the casino, started getting information from the co-workers and recorded all these details in her journal. Interestingly code names were assigned to the gangsters. She and the staff described these gangsters in details and also logged their hierarchy and associations. They studied how the cash flowed each night at the casino and how everything was connected to each other. 

In her notes she also made observations of some tense meetings which took place between the Big Circle Boys kingpins. These were mainly the older men who were respected and feared. Such a tensed meeting took place in the rooms of the Richmond casino after a shooting that took place in a Richmond restaurant. 

She also noted in her journal that the baccarat pit in the casino was going out of hand and the casino management was not paying heed to their warnings. However, the staff became more aware of the various gangs which were working in the casino. The supervisors felt overwhelmed and intimidated. 

After about two years, Labine made use of all her notes which contained the detailed observations of the happenings at the casino for escalating complaints to the top with stunning allegations. All these are recorded in the form of letters which were exchanged between her and Ross McLeod, who was the then-president of Great Canadian Gaming. 

Revenue Doubles

Post May 1997, Labine collected some casino revenue sheets and tallied them against the transactions which were taking place in the baccarat pit. 

There was no change in the numbers of tables in the small Richmond casino – there were no slot machines but there were 30 betting tables. 

In the month of May, the total casino revenue was $1,617,000. This amount was after paying out the bet wins. This figure was seen in the documents of the British Columbia Gaming Commission, which had been obtained by Global News show. Majority of this amount went to the government of B.C; the share of Great Canadian was approximately $647,000. In the month of June, when the baccarat and higher bet limits changed, the revenue in the casino increased to $2,490,000 and the Great Canadian took $996,000. 

Surprisingly in July, the win at Richmond casino had doubled to $3,035,000. Again in August, the total revenue at Richmond casino was $2.65 million. All these figures are obtained from B.C Government documents. 

As per Labine’s journal records, the numbers of “human tellers” kept on rising in the casino from month to month. 

Labine told Global News quite frankly that there are clear reports which reflect the huge surge in the revenues of the casino, from the month when the betting limits were increased to $500 and when the mono-baccarat game was allowed in the casino. It is from here that the gangs started arriving in the casino. 

The entries in the journal

On studying Labine’s journal notes one can find in minute details about the wild new economic factors in play.

In one August 1998 journal note it was written that the numbers of $500 bet players have grown rapidly in the past few months. It has been seen that more than 20 people are playing at a single baccarat table quite commonly. 

Labine and a few of her colleagues had termed the men as “Boys” who were believed to be funding the baccarat players. 

In another 1998 August journal it was said that Labine and her co-workers were sure that more than one gang was operating at the tables. This information was mainly given by the casino security and the Asian dealers. They also came to know that the “Boys” had their individual clients to whom they catered exclusively. They “Boys” provided anything that their clients wanted, but the most important thing that they did was giving them large quantities of chips of cash whenever they ran out of money. 

Labine had lots of queries and doubts about the $20s, which were pouring all over the baccarat tables. In the journal records it was seen as how the staff scrutinized as how the money was being distributed. 

Her notes read that a head loan shark (whose name has been redacted), who operated for quite some time in the casino comes in. He is seen to carry a grocery bag, which is full of money. He sends a signal and all the other “Boys” join him. All of them stand at the concession stand and the loan shark opening the bag begins passing out bundles of $20 bills. The “Boys” take the cash and bring it to the table for commencing the transactions. As per her records, the gangs could easily exchange $20s for $100s in the casino. 

Her notes also said that the “Boys” would frequently purchase bundled $20 bills, which totaled to $1000/$2000 each bundle. The casino staff was then compelled to send the “Boys” to cash cage for making the transactions…the cage would exchange the smaller bills for larger bills, which could be easiy changed on the gaming table. 

Though it is not noted in Labine’s journal, but exchanging $20s for $100s is a kind of money-laundering technique, which is also known as “refining” currency. The technique is also called “coloring up”. Criminals can exchange the $20s used in street drug transactions for $100s as they are more acceptable in business transactions and in banking. 

Labine said that she has strong suspicions that the $20s which flooded across the baccarat tables were actually drug money. In a 1998 journal note, she referred to a senior employee (mane redacted) saying, that even he felt strongly that not extortion, but heroin was the main source of income for the loan sharks. As per his opinions, deals take place all the time, but are visible only when one pays attention. He said that on many occasions he witnessed drug deals which were carried out by the “Boys” in public washrooms. 

When checked with records in B.C court files, this observation seems consistent. The police believed that the Big Circle Boys preferred making drug transactions in casinos. This is because if they were caught by police, they could utilize the concept of casino play as a great excuse for large volumes of cash. 

Police and investigators pointed to a kingpin of the Big Circle Boys and he was considered to be the leading loan shark in the Richmond casino. Not only this, he was a violent heroin trafficker. The kingpin was facing a deportation order as per the investigators. The kingpin would give out large volumes of cash through his ‘minions’ directly into the hands of the Chinese high rollers in the casino. 

The court records also allege that these loans used to be secured against Vancouver homes and luxury vehicles. The payment was done back to the loan shark with checks. Records show that this is a proven fact because checks amounting to hundreds of thousands were found and seized at the kingpin’s residence. If casino borrower failed at repayment, the loan shark and his gang of Big Circle Boys went to the extent of extorting the victim, size vehicles, make threats, seize homes and furniture for repayment etc. 

As per information from agents of Canada Border Service, the seized vehicles were either shipped to Hong Kong and China or they were sold at some car dealership in Vancouver, which was owned by the loan-sharking kingpin. 

“Lay Off Him”

As per Labine, she started fearing the Big Circle Boys more and more when she saw that the customers of Richmond casino seemed threatened. Many of them also came to the baccarat pit with facial injuries and bruises. 

She recalled and said that one night when she went to the casino to work, she noticed that one of the regular customers of the casino was with two of loan sharks. Those rowdy men had the customer against the wall in the casino exteriors and were threatening him continuously saying that they wanted their money back. 

In her journal records there is mention of several men who instilled fear wherever they went. 

In one of the journal entries made by Labine she said that she and the other casino staff were told by some senior casino management to “‘lay off him. He is not someone you want to deal with.’” These were the exact words mentioned in the journal. 

As per information in the journal, the loan shark was just about 5-feet in height. He was in his fifties, was balding and the look on his face was devilishly sinister. This man was the only shark in the casino who was offered free drinks and cigarettes by the casino. The entry in the journal also read that this loan shark was seen once with the vice-president of the casino. He shook hands with the man and also had some long conversations with him. Almost the whole staff of the casino was highly intimidated by this loan shark. 

There was another VIP gambler who was a man and who was highly feared in the casino. He threatened a casino manager, who was a Chinese woman, regarding a baccarat bet outcome. 

In a journal entry, it was noted by Labine that the ‘Fat Man’ was a high roller and he had associations with gangs. There were many members of the management who wanted to have this roller removed, but the higher management did not choose to do so. There might be two reasons for this – either they were scared or they were greedy for the man’s money.  

The threat that was given to the supervisor was of ending his life by shooting between the eyes. However, when Great Canadian Gaming was questioned whether such threats were given or not, they did not respond. 

Interestingly in the journal notes, there is mention of many Asian organized crime “families”, but when it comes to naming, only one prominent gang is named. For instance one 1998 journal record says that security informed that one of the main gangs is the Big Circle Boys. 

By 1998 or so, Labine had been successful in gathering some ‘real’ and physical evidence of loan sharking that went on in the casino. The journal record shows paper records which refer to loan amounts to high rollers, who has codenames. Inspite of so many evidences and proofs, Labine was not cent percent sure that her fears and observations and understanding of the “Boys” was completely correct and accurate. 

This changed in 1998 in November. In the journal record it was found that a lower level loan shark, who was code named as “Michael” was shot by a senior loan shark with code name “Scarface”. The man was shot in the back room of a restaurant in Richmond during a mahjong game. 

It was an attempted murder case and the court said that both the men were loan sharks in Richmond and they had close associations with Big Circle Boys. Along with this, they were also associated to Betty Yan, who was another casino loan shark and also the witness to murder of Michael. This news was reported by the Vancouver Sun in 1999. 

Yan straight away denied that she belonged to the Big Circle Boys gangster group in this particular case. However records show that in the deportation hearings, she was associated to various loan-sharking operations. She was shot down dead in 2009 when she was in her Mercedes outside some illegal Richmond casino. 

A journal note written by Labine in 1998 said that they had to keep hoping and praying so that they could remain safe from all kinds of harm. She also knew that they were in line of fire as casino employee. This was also said because they were then just 4 days away from the hearing of bail of “Scarface”. 

Nothing changed much and large volumes of cash flowed to the baccarat tables as usual. The casino staff feared the high rollers being robbed at gunpoint. This was all entered as journal notes in December 1998. The notes also say that the staff were becoming more and more cautious about the currency that the “Boys” were generating for the casino. The amount was huge of the volume of cash that was being handled. It was quite common then seeing men carrying bag full of cash. 

Some staff had high expectations that with the shooting of Michael in the casino’s restaurant, police attention would be shift to the casino interiors as well. In the notes it was written that the police were trying a house cleaning act. There were arrests within the casino and it might make the sharks think of finding a new destination. However, by January 1999, all expectations from the police had faded. 

The journal entry report read that as expected the “Boys” were back. They kind of were aware of the fact that the house-cleaning work will stop after few weeks and there will be usual business after that. Labine said that she and her coworkers felt sorry for the police as the police also seemed helpless. She opined that it was also possible that they could be robbed at gunpoint any time. 

The Safety Committee

Labine said that she undertook a decision to gather staff around her concerns and for that she even joined many committees which deal with employee issues. One of the committees even concentrated on workplace safety. 

In an in-depth interview with Global News, Labine said that she was really scared when she found out that all this was organized crime. She said she strengthened her campaign against the gangs and loan sharks in the casino with the help of a staff meeting, which was attended by Great Canadian’s vice-president at that time – Adrian Thomas. In 2003, Thomas resigned from the operations of the casino and he said he had no longer connection to the Great Canadian Gaming. 

In the meeting Labine raised her hand and said that she wanted to talk about the gangs and their agenda in the casino. Adrian ignored the concern, looked at her and said that they were just friends and loaning money to friends – nothing else. Labine recalled that Adrian brought the thing to an end. He shut her down right there. 

Labine was intelligent and becoming aware that all the efforts she was putting in would ultimately fail. 

She recalled that the revenue in the casino was seeing unprecedented surge. The gangs kind of became the goose which laid golden eggs. They were the ones who generated cash in the casino. It because quite clear and evident that higher the amount of business the gangs did, higher were the profits made by the casino. Labine understood that the casino would not offend the gangs anytime soon. 

Labine claims that eventually Thomas asked her for a private meeting in a poker room in the same casino. In the meeting Thomas asked her if she was worried about the safety and security of the staff. And till date she is dumbfound and shocked as what she was told. 

To the question if she was worried about staff’s security, Labine obviously answered in affirmative. She said that she knew there were gangs operating in the casino and it was not a safe place to work any longer. In answer to this Thomas said that there was nothing to worry. They are only Asian gangs and not the Russian mafia and it is also not the Hells Angels. He also said that he had made a deal with the hangs and that they would not disturb their own place. 

Labine continued saying that she couldn’t believe what she had just heard from Thomas. Thomas also said that they had made a deal with other casino gangs as well which were at other locations. She was completely shocked and taken aback. The casino was her workplace and when Thomas called it their (the gang’s) nest, she could not believe her ears. 

Response of Thomas

Thomas responded to quite many allegations brought by Labine in an on-the-record interview. There are many points on which both Labine and Thomas agree. Like both agreed to the fact that introducing the baccarat tables and raising of the bet limits to $500 altered everything in the casino. 

Thomas said that all these things were new for the members of the staff. Till 1997, in this province, they dealt with bets of $25. Though the government previously said that there cannot be high betting limits, but did just the same after coming to power as it brought more revenue for them and it is quite understandable. Thomas also said that if the casino management could prove that a cash lender was in some kind of wrong, he himself along with top managers took initiatives and barred the lender. 

Thomas said that in this profession one has to learn to differentiate. If it is seen that someone hands over some money to someone else in the casino while playing, one should be able to ask if the person is a friend, a relative or even a loan-shark. Big amounts of money are often seen and this volume could only be from a loan shark. 

As mentioned in Labine’s journal notes, Thomas denied vehemently that he never knowingly met with any suspected gang leader in the casino. He said that he shook hands with many people but he never shook hands with a runner or a loan shark purposely. He said that he barred people in the casino himself and during that he might have shook hands with many. And just shaking hands did not imply anything. He also went ahead to say that such perceptions are stupid and people who want to create some kind of trouble say such things. Thomas added, saying that even if it was a gang boss, he did not know anything about it. 

Thomas mentioned that no cigarettes were sold at Richmond casino and so it would be next to impossible to “comp” cigarettes to casino patrons. He also said that the claims of a man being feared and about whom the staff were asked to ‘lay off him’ are also false. 

Thomas many a times reiterated during the lengthy interview that he was a hands-on manager at the casino. As a result, he had to meet with suspicious casino patrons for telling them that they were not welcome in the casino or that they were out of line. 

For instance, Thomas opined that he was well aware than Yann, who was also a loan shark and who was shot dead in 2009, made entry into the Richmond casino occasionally. However, Thomas said that Yann was “basically persona non grata”. 

Thomas also talked about Lai Changxing. As per federal court records, he was a criminal billionaire and the “most wanted man” in China. Not only this, he was an excellent baccarat gambler in Richmond. He also had close associations with Kiwk Chung Tam, the well-known Big Circle Boys kingpin and with Yann as well. Thomas once took Lai to the private security room in the Richmond casino and asked him not to make any kind of trouble. 

Thomas said that he had to do this as he got a complaint that Lai had allegedly sexually assaulted a female casino dealer at the casino. Even though the allegation was not confirmed, Thomas looked into the matter. He said that the employee was not interested in pursuing the complaint however.

As per reports, Lai was eventually deported to China in the year 2011. He was popularly known by his nickname “Lai fat-Man”. 

Federal court records also stand as evidence of the fact that Tam was integrally connected to running a drug lab in Richmond and he had also been condemned of extortion. However, Tam always asserted that he was nothing but a legitimate businessman. 

Thomas vehemently denied that no understanding or dealings with gangs in Great Canadian Gaming casinos. But he recalled that he told some people in the casino that they shouldn’t jot transactions in their record books as there are surveillance cameras all around and these acts might be seen upon suspiciously. 

Thomas said that if someone operated as a “human teller machine” (as the staff called them) and one was sure of that, one had to talk to them. As per Thomas, one had to tell them that they couldn’t do this. If they wanted to lend money to someone, it couldn’t be done within their sight, not even within the premises of the casino. He also said that he would warn people that if he saw something like that, he would have to do something about it. 

Thomas said that it was none other than Great Canadian Gaming, which took great initiatives in banning unwelcome patrons to the casino in many cases. It was Great Canadian Gaming which compelled the B.C Lottery Corporation in enforcing the bans. 

Thomas emphasized on the fact that he never had any kind of clue that loan sharks were actually laundering money from drugs. He said that he had no idea if drugs were involved in it or not as he had never heard it. He also couldn’t understand that how would someone know it that a runner was after a loan shark who dealt in drugs. He said he never saw anything like this, had no evidence and never even heard a rumor from the casino staff. He is surprised as from where this concept came in. 

He was also asked about his meeting with Labine in the Richmond casino poker room. Thomas agreed that the meeting did take place and the comment which involved the phrase “s-t in their own nest” was probably just a comment which was made for the characters, which Labine complained about. But he again emphasized that no kind of deal was ever made with the gangs. 

Thomas challenged anyone who came and said these and he said he would move them to court and prove what is true. He said that he did not have any dealings with anyone nor did anyone from the company as far as he knew. There were just no dealings with the gangs or with any bad person whatsoever. There is certainly no question of any money lending or drugs. 

Thomas said that Labine hated him and she exaggerated whatever he said and twisted the whole context. There was a reason behind what Labine did, Thomas opined. She took to lying as she was denied a promotion with Great Canadian and then badly rejected in her efforts of union organization. This is the reason that Labine turned into a troublesome employee and finally left the job and joined the B.C Government Employees Union. 

On the other hand, Labine continuously insists that she is speaking the truth. She still is feared that the Great Canadian Gaming will sue her for speaking out loud about gangsters. However, scared she is, she thinks that someone has to come out and break this silence. The B.C’s government should also have an account of such happenings. 

Labine said that she is doing all this as it is the right thing to do and she regrets that she should have done it 20 years ago. She also questioned if no other person saw what was happening. She was sure many saw as she had seen. Today, Labine is a middle-aged grandmother from the suburbs. 

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