An internal December 2007 RCMP report warned that top-flight criminals involved in illegal gaming would be given a free hand in British Columbia if the police unit investigating them was shutdown. But that's exactly what happened less than two years later. It's just the latest piece in a growing stack of reports, emails and interviews which have called into question that decision - as well as whether enough is being done to crackdown on crimes like loansharking, pyramid schemes, bookmaking and Internet gaming. But, speaking with Public Eye, the province's gaming minister Rich Coleman said he won't reverse course, maintaining that such crimes are just as well-policed now as they were when the integrated illegal gaming enforcement team was still around.
The report was prepared by the team's two senior members - officer in charge, Insp. Wayne Holland, and acting Staff Sgt. Andrew Martin. It recommended doubling the strength of IIGET - which, at the time, had "less than optimal staffing" and only achieved "modest" results.
The report argued that expansion would allow the team could clear backlogged cases and become the "true voice" for law enforcement regarding "this burgeoning criminal enterprise."
But if that didn't happen "organized crime activity surrounding illegal gaming in British Columbia could escalate" among other consequences. And things would get even worse if the government-funded team - which was setup by the Campbell administration in 2004 - was shuttered.
According to the report, "mid and high level targets would conduct their illicit operations with impunity."
The reason: the only remaining group dedicated to illegal gaming would be the inspectors working for the government's gaming policy and enforcement branch. And those civilian inspectors, according to the report, wouldn't have the legal authority "to take full enforcement action" against those targets.
An effectiveness review of the team prepared for the ministry of public safety and solicitor general around the same time reached similar conclusions. It stated "no other policy agency is likely to fill the void" left by IIGET if the team was disbanded, with the RCMP advising it was "very unlikely" their anti-organized crime unit "would take on major illegal gaming investigations."
So what does the minister have to say about all that? Well, pretty much what he's said since Public Eye began investigating this issue in July - ten months ago.
The team was ineffective, the team had a high staff turnover rate, the team never prepared a business plan and so on - which is why it was shutdown.
But, interviewed in his Victoria office, the minister added IIGET had become "redundant" because additional personnel had been added to the police units investigating gangs and organized crime.
And those units were, according to the minister, looking into many of the same crimes as IIGET.
Asked whether there was any documentation supporting the decision to shutdown the team, the minister first said, "No, because what we did is we just said, 'Look, this isn't working. So let's reinvest some money so we have some additional people in our own enforcement branch and let's let the money we've invested in policing work with that.'"
"I don't deal in paper," he explained. "I take the information given to me, sit-down discuss with people, then I communicate my decision. I look at you across the table and say, 'I want you to do this, this and this.' And that's how it's done."
Although he later added, he and his advisors - Kevin Begg and Derek Sturko - "walked through some briefing notes" prior to IIGET being disbanded.
As for whether that disbandment has compromised the investigation of illegal gaming, the minister stated "the feedback I get from my people and policing" is that it hasn't.
Mr. Coleman said efforts are being made to educate police about illegal gaming and the gaming policy and enforcement branch now has the equivalent of five new full-time employees looking into such crimes - reporting their finds to the cops.
"I'm not reversing the decision. I'm completely comfortable with the decision that was made on the advice of the people that gave it to me. And I'm fine with it," he stated. "There's report on report and opinion on opinions. But we made the right decision."
The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned report - a business case prepared for a senior RCMP officer, recommending the expansion of IIGET.