“Did I leak information to the media? Yes, I did. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. We wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t.”
That’s the admission of former B.C. Lottery Corporation director of anti-money laundering investigations Ross Alderson heard at the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia Thursday.
It was in 2017 that Alderson blew the lid off of money laundering in provincial government-regulated casinos when he leaked information to then Province reporter Sam Cooper upon perceiving senior officials were letting the matter slide to placate casinos and drive revenue to government coffers.
He explained his rationale:
“I saw how many of these [Chinese casino] patrons were linked into real estate transactions, into other transactions; that these were people with criminal links — that, I was given information from police — and not only that, but some very concerning links to the Chinese Communist Party.
“When I came to Vancouver and I would drive to my office through Hastings and Main, and what I saw there, you don’t see too many places like that in the world. It’s disgusting. And I just, the whole thing to me was distasteful. I felt that I was in a position where I had the information that this needed to be out in the public forum.”
Alderson testified from his new home in his native Australia following a lengthy delay in which he didn’t communicate with the commission despite being issued a summons in March 2020. The commission proceeded without his important testimony, leading to a lengthy discussion, if not an argument, about those circumstances with commission counsel Patrick McGowan.
But the more relevant substance of his testimony Thursday surrounded his role at BCLC, first as a casino investigator and then as the director of investigations until his resignation in October 2017.
Alderson told of one memorable example that summed up his time at BCLC. It was in 2012 when he said River Rock Casino and Resort manager Rick Duff chastised him and other investigators for approaching and questioning a patron who was refining $100,000 in cash (swapping twenties for hundreds without playing).
Subsequently, at a meeting with BCLC executives, “I was told categorically [by BCLC vice-president of corporate security and compliance Terry Towns] not to speak to patrons.” He added Towns told him he wasn’t a cop anymore while his manager Gordon Friesen remarked that "it's all about the revenue."
Alderson, who was a former police officer in Australia until coming to Canada in 2008 to work for BCLC, described how the investigators were dejected. After the meeting, Alderson said they huddled at a nearby bar to vent and the next day they posted a note in the office that read: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
The commission has heard a number of testimonies on how casinos violated federal cash transaction reporting requirements by setting thresholds at $50,000, not the required $10,000 — evidently with tacit support by BCLC. McGowan asked Alderson why he didn’t change those thresholds as director. Alderson explained, "At the time I did not believe I had the authority to do that,” adding such decisions would require government approval — he couldn’t just flip the switch.
After he became AML director in 2015, Alderson said he went to the RCMP with investigators’ concerns about suspicious six-figure buy-ins. He told of a meeting in 2017 he had with Towns’ replacement at the time, Rob Kroeker. Alderson testified that Kroeker wanted to delay new AML measures even after RCMP had informed BCLC and the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB) that transnational organized was behind the cash derived from Vancouver's deadly illicit street drug trade.
“The comment [from Kroeker] was that it would be OK if we let things slide a bit and that we delay the initiatives.” Why? Asked McGowan. Alderson said Kroeker explained it was Chinese New Year and “a lot of money was coming into town.”
McGowan noted Kroeker denied this.
“Mr. McGowan, I’m under oath. I’m telling the truth,” said Alderson.
McGowan questioned Alderson as to why he didn’t report this to superiors, including CEO Jim Lightbody, or GPEB.
“My experience with the gaming regulator was they weren’t too interested in this kind of thing,” said Alderson, adding, “How did I know this didn't come from Mr.Lightbody?”
McGowan then further grilled Alderson on his information leak. Alderson responded the questioning of his departure (tied to the leak) was beyond the scope of the inquiry, which is to focus on money laundering. He also took issue with testimony by Attorney General David Eby, who described Alderson’s actions as illegal.
“Primarily, your honour, one of the things I did want to get across is I find it quite interesting that a lot of the evidence that came out, and I’ve read and reread rules of engagement for this inquiry and going through my notes, there are a number of examples of incidents, at best indifference to money laundering, however there seems to be this obsession from the B.C. Lottery Corporation and the fact I may have done some wrongdoing in giving information out to media,” said Alderson.
“When I go back to [contracted researcher] Peter German’s  press conference with the attorney general standing next to him and where the report itself commends the work of Sam Cooper and the attorney general knowing at that time the information came from me. And now we fast-forward three years and the attorney general says what I did was inappropriate and unlawful. To me that’s incredibly hypocritical. The fact is we wouldn’t be having an inquiry if I hadn’t done it back then.”
McGowan stated his leak is evidence that reflects upon him.
“A lot of this is to disparage the reputation of the whistleblower,” Alderson countered.
“These people can have their opinion, or whatever they like, but my conscience is clear,” said Alderson.
McGowan then spent about half an hour on Alderson delaying his testimony by not responding to commission emails to come to the stand (online).
Alderson said he was always in Australia but did take time away in 2020 to deal with his family and the pandemic. He said the commission had resources to find him whereas McGowan asked, with indignation, if he expected them to conduct an “international manhunt.”
In another twist, it was revealed that the B.C. government has taken exception with a part of Alderson’s affidavit. The document has yet to be posted online so it’s unclear what is contentious; however, it involves communications with former RCMP officer-turned-whistleblower Fred Pinnock.
Under cross-examination, BCLC lawyer Bill Smart pointed out that the Crown corporation did try to reach out to police on the matter, including an information-sharing agreement in 2014.
Smart said it wasn’t until police deemed the cash to be proceeds of crime that anyone at BCLC could definitively call it so.
Considering officials were watching upwards of $800,000-plus in small denominations being brought to casino cages, Alderson said, “it boils down to some common sense.”