If Tim Eyman were to be judged by the company he keeps, he could be looking at significant jail time.
As reported today by Neil Modie in the Seattle P-I, the Richmond, B.C. based Great Canadian Gaming Corporation — the biggest contributor ($210,000) to Initiative 892’s campaign to legalize slot machines — is facing allegations of loansharking, prostitution, profit skimming and other criminal activities at their casinos in B.C. and abroad. [I-892 backer fights loan-sharking allegations]
The allegations come in sworn depositions from two long-time employees Proka Avramovic, a former Surveillance and Security Manager, and Boki Sikimic, the former Supervisor of Surveillance and Security for all of Great Canadian’s casinos… including those in WA state.
The allegations leveled at Great Canadian are shocking. But perhaps more shocking is the cowardly and un-American way they have been using Canada’s ass-backwards libel law to keep this information away from WA voters. Local media have been sitting on this story for months… indeed, I first blogged on it back on June 26 (“Sign this petition or I’ll break your leg! I-892’s biggest backer accused of loansharking“). As the P-I reports, Great Canadian has already filed a number of libel suits, including one against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This is what is known in the media as a “libel chill” strategy, and it has been quite effective.
While The P-I deserves credit for being the first WA media outlet (other than me) to cover this story, libel chill has clearly influenced their coverage. It took months to get this story in print, and in my opinion, the editors chickened out by burying the story on Saturday, when it would have the least impact. And while I appreciate all the hard work Neil Modie put into this story, Hearst attorneys obviously must have limited him to following the letter of Canadian law, which only permits news organizations to publish those allegations repeated by Great Canadian as part of the libel proceedings.
Great Canadian’s attorneys are counting on WA’s media to make the rational decision to keep quiet, so as not to risk the huge expense of defending even a frivolous libel suit. Unfortunately for Great Canadian… I’m not rational.
And so I choose to exercise my First Amendment rights, by excerpting some of the juicier sections of the depositions… which at times read like a bad dime-store crime novel.
Be aware that I have edited the excerpts for the sake of clarity, removing objections, redundancies and extraneous comments. But as a service to readers and my friends in the media, I am making the full text of the depositions available for download.
The depositions are from a lawsuit filed by Texas based Allegiance Capital over a failed investment in a Hong Kong floating casino, the China Sea Discovery. The lawsuit accuses Great Canadian of fraud, conspiracy and racketeering.
But first, let’s start with the girls.
Proka Avramovic took over surveillance and security for the China Sea Discovery while the regular manager went on vacation. The many “irregularities” onboard became apparent at his first briefing:
A. The very first thing that he mentioned to me was that couple of days before my arrival they had a problem with girls that were working on the ship, and he call them prostitutes.
Q. Okay. And what was the problem?
A. Somehow those girls were working on the ship and they had the room. He showed me the room. And one of the girls weren’t part of the crew, she was trying to work on her own, so that’s why he kick her out.
Q. “Wasn’t part of the crew”, what do you mean by that?
A. Well, my understanding was somebody arranged those girls to be on the ship and work. I also been told by him that one of the staff employed by Great Canadian has been having a service and paying for the service.
Q. What service?
A. Well, I guess those girls are prostitutes. I mean, we can just imagine what kind of service.
Q. Oh, well, okay. You mean service from the prostitutes.
Certainly a public company like Great Canadian would never arrange to have prostitutes onboard their ship, would they? Or knowingly tolerate an employee frequenting the prostitutes? Surely these are the accusations of a disgruntled former employee.
As a matter of fact, Great Canadian has filed a libel suit against Mr. Avramovic, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and Allegiance Capital for repeating these and other allegations. They haven’t, however, filed a libel suit against Boki Sikimic, Mr. Avramovic’s former supervisor, so we can assume Great Canadian has no dispute with what he says in his testimony on the incident:
Q. Did you receive any other reports concerning prostitutes?
A. No. Other ones are okay — they didn’t make any problem.
Q. You received no actual reports other than that one concerning prostitution?
A. That was the only one that we — they have a problem.
Q. Okay. Have a problem — Oh, you mean the only one that was acting up?
Q. All right. Were these other women permitted to remain on the ship?
Q. Were they permitted to continue their operations as prostitutes?
Q. Did you report these communications made to you concerning prostitutes to anyone?
A. I report to Adrian and Brian, but they knew that they was on the ship before, so they probably knew that there was —
Q. Did they tell you they knew it?
A. No, no, but they told me that it’s normal. It’s like massage.
It’s like massage, right… like massaging your penis.
Anyway, “Adrian and Brian” are Great Canadian President & COO Adrian Thomas, and Executive Vice-President Brian Egli. All the Surveillance and Security Managers reported directly to Mr. Sikimic, and Mr. Sikimic reported directly to Mr. Thomas and Mr. Egli. So it is clear that top executives were at least aware of reports of illegal or improper activities, if not complicit.
Indeed, later in the deposition Great Canadian’s attorney seems unconcerned with refuting the prostitution allegation, instead focusing on whether it negatively impacted profitability.
The Allegiance attorney is also focused on profitability, and takes a particular interest in a Hong Kong company called Mexteam, who they claim Great Canadian contracted to supply and operate the ship. Under questioning, Mr. Avramovic reveals a potential conflict of interest:
A. I saw couple of business cards of Howard Blank and Tom Bell. They had the business cards with their name on it and the company name was —
A. Yeah, Mexteam.
Q. Are you telling me that Howard Blank had a business card with Mexteam on it?
Q. Is there anything else you can tell me about Mexteam?
A. To my impression, all purchase for the ship went through that company.
Howard Blank is Great Canadian’s Director of Media & Public Relations, and the company spokesman most often quoted in news coverage of their expansion into the WA market. Tom Bell is their Executive Director of Corporate Development. So what are two Great Canadian directors doing with Mexteam business cards? Well, according to Mr. Sikimic (again, not accused of libel,) they’re not the only Great Canadian principals involved:
Q. Okay. What do you know about Mexteam, if anything?
A. They’re in Hong Kong. Those guys, the one there, I think they had an office there, Walter and other people. They’re in some connection, but for the record I don’t know what exactly.
Q. Okay. Some connection, you mean connection with the ship or what? What do you mean by that?
A. I think with the ship and Great Canadian. Probably it’s Charles’ company. I don’t know. I think it’s his company.
“Walter” is Walter Soo, Great Canadian’s VP of Gaming Development, who developed the whole China Sea Discovery project, and ran the operations in Hong Kong. “Charles” is Charles Ming, a Great Canadian Director and major shareholder who, according to Washington State Gambling Commission documents has twice been charged with bribing public officials. (Although his conviction was overturned on a technicality. Presumably by a public official.)
So you can see what Allegiance is getting at. The China Sea Discovery lost money throughout its operations, yet the “independent” contractor operating and supplying the ship — presumably at a profit — is controlled by Great Canadian directors and shareholders. No conflict of interest there, huh?
But still, business ventures sometimes fail. It’s not like people were just walking into the casino and grabbing wads of cash.
A. Specifically that there is a tape and report that we see the person unknown to me comes and grab the money from the pile of the money in the cash cage. You see the guy grabs the money and walk. That’s on the tape.
Oh. According to the non-libelous Mr. Sikimic, they were just grabbing wads of cash. And it’s on tape. But surely that’s an isolated incident of theft, right? Not according to Mr. Avramovic:
A. Surveillance just receive a phone call and we’ve been telling by Dennis Kwan or someone from the cage that they’re going to be giving them some sum, like some money to them. We didn’t know who those people are. We didn’t know if they return the money later on or not.
Q. Well, where was the money given to them?
A. Well, that was the funny part because we were there not to ask questions. We had a problem because we didn’t know exactly names who —
Q. You didn’t recognize these individuals? Is that what you’re saying?
A. Well, most of the times the money was given to the individuals that we didn’t know.
Q. Okay. Where did they go to get it, though?
A. They went to the cash cage and they’ve been paid by cashier person, and sometimes they go and play and sometimes they just go and disappear.
See why Allegiance is a tad suspicious? Mr. Sikimic’s testimony corroborates that this practice was the rule, not the exception, and both depositions make it clear that contrary to normal casino operations, no receipts or markers where ever signed, nor proper records of these transactions kept. So was this just sloppy bookkeeping, or as Allegiance contends, deliberate profit skimming sanctioned by Great Canadian executives?
Well remember Dennis Kwan, mentioned above? He was the ship’s Casino Manager (not to be confused with Director of Operational Systems & Controls, Grace Chow, who was apparently having an affair with project director Walter Soo.) Mr. Sikimic (libel-free) recounts the following incident involving Mr. Kwan:
A. I received phone call that money was stolen, that manager stole the money.
Q. The manager stole the money.
A. Yeah. I said send me something in writing, you know. He send me in writing that Dennis Kwan took — amount I’m not sure, so I can’t tell you is it 30 or 40,000. And I went with that to Brian Egli, report that. I says, what are we going to do? We’ve got a guy stole the money, you know. So we called Adrian. Adrian told me that he didn’t steal the money, that he told him to take the money. That’s explanation and no question ask.
Okay, so the Casino Manager is walking out of the cage with wads of cash stuffed down his pants, unaccounted for, and Great Canadian President & COO Adrian Thomas says, that’s okay, I told him to take it. Hmmm. One can see how Allegiance might misinterpret this as “profit skimming.”
So, as Allegiance Capital is losing its entire investment in the China Sea Discovery, Great Canadian is apparently staffing the ship with its own employees, and sub-contracting management of day-to-day operations to Mexteam, a company which, coincidentally, is owned and operated by Great Canadian shareholders, directors, and executives. (It’s very possible that Walter Soo quite literally sold himself a bill of goods.) Meanwhile, cash is constantly walking out of the casino in the pockets of Great Canadian managers… or even total strangers.
And all these questionable (in my opinion, clearly illegal) activities are happening with the knowledge and consent of Great Canadian executives: the improper business relationship with Mexteam, the undocumented cash disbursements, the apparent profit skimming. Not to mention the prostitutes and Chinese mobsters.
Oh. Did I forget to mention the Chinese mobsters?
The depositions occasionally mention the mysterious Mr. Y, whose posse was known to carry guns onboard the ship during his frequent visits. At some point the business relationship went sour, as evidenced by Mr. Avramovic’s amusing testimony of the ship’s ignominious escape from China:
Q. Wait a minute. You ran away from China, what do you mean by that?
A. Well, we had an unpleasant experience in China like I mention before. We had real trouble with Mr. Y, that mob guy. He’s been threatening some of the Great Canadian employees there, to be more specific, Walter Soo, Grace Chow, Tyrone White and Dennis Kwan. They, I mean, literally ran off the ship.
Q. They literally did what? I’m sorry.
A. Like ran off the ship.
Q. They ran off the ship?
Q. Because of Mr. Y?
A. Mr. Y was making some demands about the money that he invest and Walter Soo tried to resolve the issues, then Walter Soo’s being threatened by him. Mr. Y wanted money back in order to free the ship from China. Right after that meeting, the whole GCC crew just disappear, like ran off. The only guys who’s staying on the ship were myself and my assistant.
Apparently, Allegiance wasn’t the only unhappy investor, but Mr. Y wasn’t about to hide behind lawyers like those girly boys from Texas. He made great Canadian an offer they couldn’t refuse, and eventually the China Sea Discovery limped towards safe harbor in Taiwan. Where according to Mr. Avramovic it sat idle, because the floating casino no longer had its “float.”
Q. When you say you didn’t have a float, would you tell me what that means for the record?
A. Well, float means casino float. It’s operating funds that casino would operate. To open a casino for business, you have to have some certain amount of money to back up the chips that you have on the floor. So that’s what we call a float.
Q. Okay. When did the float disappear?
A. The float disappear together with — when GCC staff took off.
The China Sea Discovery didn’t just lose money… it literally lost the money. The casino’s float disappeared entirely!
Damning allegations I admit, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. Perhaps Great Canadian’s attorney is correct when he suggests that these questionable activities — the fraudulent relationship with Mexteam, the undocumented cash disbursements, the profit skimming, the prostitution and the mob connections — are all just normal business practices for a Hong Kong casino.
And why should we care anyway? What happens in China stays in China. None of this translates to illegal activities in Great Canadian’s B.C. and WA state casinos, right?
Well, that’s where the loansharking at B.C. casinos comes in, which Mr. Avramovic explains was his main reason for leaving his job.
A. The main purpose of me leaving Great Canadian Casino was I didn’t want to get involved in some stuff that they were illegal.
Q. Okay. What are you talking about specifically?
A. Loan sharks activities, selected barring of loan sharks.
Q. Okay. What was your problem with these activities?
A. Well, I notice that the company and some people at the head office, including my director, were very selective who they’re going to bar. So some loan sharks were allowed to stay and some small-timer loan sharks were asked to leave. We also collect evidence that one of the casino lead managers was involved in this transaction and he was borrowing money of them. We also report that one of the loan sharks rape one of the dealers which never been report to authorities, never been investigate. I’ve been reporting that illegal cigarettes have been selling at the Holiday Inn concession casino.
Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention the unreported rape and the illegal cigarette sales.
But apart from the fraudulent Mexteam relationship, the undocumented cash disbursements, the profit skimming, the mob connections, and the loansharking, rape and illegal cigarette sales at B.C. casinos… Great Canadian is an upstanding corporate citizen, right?
A. The guy who supposed to take Boki’s position, Patrick Ennis, he was the guy who offered me drugs.
Yeah… well… it turns out that Patrick Ennis, the current Supervisor of Surveillance and Security for all of Great Canadian’s casinos, allegedly offered Mr. Avramovic cocaine on several occasions. A fact that was dutifully reported to management, before they promoted Mr. Ennis.
That doesn’t look so good.
But perhaps this is all due to a couple of bad apples. Surely, if top management knew about illegal activities in their B.C. casinos, somebody would have put a stop it. Mr. Avramovic continues:
A. One of the security/surveillance managers meeting, I’ve been advised by my director, who was Boki Sikimic, that I supposed to direct my people to turn their heads the other way when they see those big loan sharks around because that’s good for business. I also been advised by — someone else was present on that meeting. It was Carl Bolton, who’s sitting right there.
Q. You mean Carl Bolton in this room?
A. Yeah. He’s been explaining how to avoid to report everything to the authorities.
Q. To what authority, for instance?
A. For instance, British Columbia Lottery Corporation and GPEB.
And who is this Carl Bolton who explained how to avoid reporting everything to authorities? None other than Great Canadian’s Director of Compliance. So top management not only knows about the illegal activities, but they ask security and surveillance to look the other way, because loansharks are “good for business.”
Perhaps it’s the language barrier, but I can’t help but infer that the job of the “Director of Compliance” is to assure that the company actually complies with all British Columbia Lottery Corporation and Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch (GPEB) regulations and reporting requirements.
Not that it apparently would have mattered. Mr. Avramovic claims that he made numerous formal and informal reports of illegal activities directly to B.C. authorities, to little avail.
A. I’ve been told by both agencies that that information is going to be processed. All those discrepancy that I mention, not on the ship, that I mention about the drugs, rape, selling the illegal cigarettes, loan sharks problem, they’ve been telling me that they were going to look into it but that right now it’s not good time because it’s expansion of the gaming industry there, so definitely somebody will look after that and somebody will contact me.
No, you wouldn’t want allegations of drugs, rape, illegal cigarette sales and loansharking at B.C. casinos to be made public at a time you are massively expanding the gaming industry there.
That would be irresponsible.
However here in America we believe voters have the right to know what kind of company is sponsoring the most massive expansion of gambling in state history. So here’s all you really need to know about Richmond B.C. based Great Canadian:
Personally, I’m not willing to roll the dice on Great Canadian or I-892.
(Note: tomorrow I will post a video clip of Great Canadian boasting about its plans to put slot machines into WA’s “bedroom communities”.)