Shark hunting

The cost of harpooning the mostly Asian loan sharks at British Columbia's casinos outweighs the benefits. That's the opinion of Ed Rampone, the former senior bureaucrat who was responsible for looking into wrongdoing at those facilities. In an exclusive interview, Mr. Rampone agreed organized crime figures do frequent casinos. But do such places have a "ton of criminal activity" connected to those gangsters, as the ex-commander of the RCMP's now-defunct anti-illegal gaming team has charged? Well, that's where Mr. Rampone and Fred Pinnock differ.

In October, Mr. Pinnock went on the record with concerns the RCMP has been "playing ostrich" about the problems inside legal gaming facilities.

He acknowledged the British Columbia Lotteries Corp. and civil service inspectors who are, in practice, responsible for those facilities are "very competent."

But he questioned whether they had the "mandate and resources effectively target the criminal activity going on within these environments," stressing the need for "well-resourced law enforcement units" to handle that task.

However, Mr. Rampone, who was in charge of those civil service inspectors, said the government's rigorous screening process for gaming industry workers makes sure anyone with connections to organized crime isn't hired.

He added the province has been "fairly effective at closing the door" on money laundering.

And the government has done a good job of deterring loan sharking inside casinos by, for example, barring the passing of cash or chips on gaming floors.

But Mr. Rampone said, when he was in government, not a lot of resources were spent on catching those loans sharks because such investigations would have sucked up time and money better used to stamp out more serious crimes.

Mr. Rampone said catching loan sharks is resource-intensive because most of them are Asian, erecting cultural and language barriers that can block white law enforcement officials.

An undercover agent would also need be a "fairly heavy better" to catch the attention and trust of a loan shark, repeatedly spending thousands of dollars.

And, even if that attention is caught, the agent will be dealing with a runner - the easily replaced, low-level criminals who act as go-betweens for loan sharks.

"Then you've got to go and tie that young man and the money you're getting to the individual who's parked a block away," explained Mr. Rampone.

All of which means a lot of effort to catch an individual who is actually a "welcome" presence among those taking out such loans.

"For most of them, as long as they pay, they have no problem with these people," said Mr. Rampone.

Meanwhile, those resources aren't being used to nab "the guy who's the drug dealer in your neighborhood. And that's the truth of it."

Mr. Rampone was dismissed in April for allegedly receiving inappropriate emails.

He's filed a petition in British Columbia Supreme Court challenging that dismissal.

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