After weeks of work on a file, a few things are bound to stick with you, like this comment: “Ryan Kam’s head was not chopped off. He was hit on the head numerous times with a hatchet to kill him.”
Amazingly, the research that led to that assertion started from some sponsored advertising content for Mother’s Day, of all things, in a May 2012 issue of the Goldstream Gazette, by the now defunct West Coast Tap House.
Over the years, the Tap House had served as a polling station in the 2011 federal election, hosted business speed-networking events and community fundraisers.
It also had another side not always seen by the general public and some interesting pedigree.
On some nights it was a microcosm of nearly every social ill facing B.C. today: gangs, drugs, prostitution and connections to purported money launderers.
It’s tough to do justice to an establishment that closed down five years ago, so how about a virtual tour of sorts, pointing out some of the patrons instead?
See that young man, Dillon Brown, sitting at the bar? He doesn’t know it, but he’s going to be murdered in a few years, allegedly by Richard Ernest Alexander, president of the Devil’s Army Motorcycle Club in Campbell River, a Hells Angels puppet club.
Those three on the patio, to the left in the corner, well, two – Ali Ziaee and Zachary “Ziggy” Matheson – will shortly be busted for trafficking in cocaine and crystal meth. The police seized an estimated $542,000 in drugs.
Following a guilty plea, the sentencing gods smiled on Ziaee, who received 30 months. Ziggy went to trial, was found guilty and sentenced to five years.
Ziaee’s father was reportedly convicted of money laundering in the United States some years before. Told the son sells cars now.
The big group that just came in, the staff put a couple of tables together for them – “50-seats exactly” – bet they’re going to be talking about last night’s Dateline episode on NBC, the one about Lindsay Buziak’s murder in 2008.
A few in that group are persons of interest in the Buziak murder. Probably never made the international media before in their lives.
One of Lindsay’s co-workers at Re/Max Camosun – also a person of interest in the case – just walked in. Looks like she’ll be joining her reputed boyfriend back then, Ovidio Edgar Acevedo. He’s a mid-level drug dealer, bit of a hanger-on, though.
Wasn’t like that every night at the Tap House, some nights it seemed as though one crowd knew when to stay at home.
Case in point? The Canada Day long weekend in 2011.
Here’s how the Times Colonist reported it: “It’s 10: 33 p.m. Saturday night of the Canada Day long weekend in downtown Victoria, and eight cops from the Integrated Gang Task Force and two Victoria police officers march single file into Monty’s Showroom Pub, wearing bulletproof vests and packing sidearms.
“The next stop is another strip club, the Fox in the Red Lion hotel, around 11 p.m. The convoy of unmarked vehicles heads out to Langford, stopping at the West Coast Tap House, which is surprisingly dead for a Saturday night.”
Government racks up $10,510 in credit card charges at the Tap House
Police have a term for what may have contributed to that “surprisingly dead” feel: ‘sixed.’
When patrons are tipped-off in advance, “it gives them the opportunity to run out the back or drop their guns and weapons and drugs on the floor,” (Sgt. Keiron) McConnell told the Times Colonist.
The task force suspect they got “sixed” at Monty’s, “meaning one of the bouncers saw the police gathering outside and ducked in the bar to warn patrons.”
They may have been ‘sixed’ at the Tap House too. Key players in both establishments go back to schoolyard days and remain close today.
What makes the Tap House so special among the four “hot spots” the Task Force visited that night?
It’s the only one that appears on the B.C. government’s credit card statements.
From 2008/09 to 2013/14, the government charged $10,510 at the establishment. In 2013/14, the Ministry of Finance charged more at the Tap House than it did at Victoria’s Union Club, albeit by about $20.
Some of the charges included meals, others were mostly meeting room rentals, which come with little or no extra expense for the owner.
The Tap House wasn’t just any establishment and sometimes the coincidences begin to pile up.
Consider: 45 establishments in the Langford area that could easily appear on the government’s credit card statements for comparable services.
Over seven fiscal years, a total of $14,676 was charged among the 45, of which $10,510 was at the Tap House.
What makes those charges stick out, even more, is when they stopped.
The first charge ($1,000) by the Energy, Mines and Resources ministry appears in the 2008/09 fiscal year. There were no charges in 2009/10, the balance of $9,510 was charged over the following four years.
One of the charges was for the Property Assessment Appeal Board. On August 22, 2013, the board signed a $280 contract, obtained through an access to information request by Jon Woodward at CTV Vancouver, for a meeting to be held the following month at the Tap House.
The day before signing that contract a headline in the Times Colonist read: “Suspicious fire at Inferno Chophouse and Grill in Langford.”
Tap House ties to legislature
In late spring 2013, the Tap House had undergone a menu makeover and emerged as the Inferno Chophouse and Grill, even though contracts and payments were still processed under the former name.
The West Shore RCMP were also “called to the scene after a burglary alarm in the restaurant went off at the same time,” as was the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).
The Tap House was given a “high hazard” rating and was shut “for any public consumption of food or drink,” until VIHA determined otherwise. It didn’t reopen until November 4, 2013.
Only 16 days later – on November 20 – VIHA gave the establishment a “critical” rating for the “improper cleaning, sanitizing of equipment and utensils.”
The glasswasher was “unable to provide sanitizer in the final rinse.”
You could forgive the government for not seeing some of the links between patrons at the Tap House and biker gangs to a point. Few did. There was some online chatter about it, but that was pretty well the extent of it.
However, all of that changed on July 10, 2011, when the Times Colonist published that article: “Task force tackles Island hot spots in search of gang members.” It set a demarcation line.
There were at least two possible approaches moving forward for public entities. The City of Langford took one and the B.C. government took another.
Langford had spent $4,652 at the Tap House over its first three years of operation, but after the Times Colonist article, the establishment doesn’t appear on the city’s vendor cheque statements.
For the provincial government on the other hand, it was business as usual.
The Tap House seems to have had some cheerleaders in government, right up until the point when there was a change in ownership and the credit card charges came to a screeching halt.
A handful of possible boosters come to mind.
One of the Tap House’s co-owners was James L. James, a step-son to the former clerk of the B.C. legislature, Craig James.
The Tap House and the legislature shared many of the same suppliers.
Today, James L. James is a mortgage broker working for Jason Zailo’s Dominion Lending Centre franchise, an alternative lender.
Zailo had been Buziak’s boyfriend at the time of her murder.
James was provided an opportunity to comment and declined.
Then there’s Buziak’s former co-worker from Re/Max, the one involved with the mid-level drug dealer. She quit Re/Max the day after the murder and has been described as a less than cooperative person-of-interest ever since.
She took a job in the finance ministry, as a corporate compliance clerk in the registration and certification division after the murder. The division’s responsibilities include lotteries and gaming integrity.
Later she became a program assistant in the ministry’s corporate information and records management office which has responsibility for the government’s access to information operations, privacy and government records service.
She no longer seems to work for the government and was unable to be located for comment. Her government email address and telephone numbers are no longer in service.
would be easy to say this is about the sins of the father or the step-son, but it’s more than that.
Those pesky PEP (politically exposed person) designations may be a nuisance for some, particularly for those who are designated as such, but the intent is dead on.
The United Nations Convention against Corruption defines PEPs as “individuals who are, or have been, entrusted with prominent public functions and their family members and close associates,” including step-children, “if they’ve been legally adopted through marriage.”
“The influence and control a PEP has puts them in a position to impact policy decisions, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and finances, which can make them vulnerable to corruption.”
B.C. needs to step up its game in this regard and apply more comprehensive disclosure rules not only for MLAs, but for senior public employees as well. After all, it’s 2019, and it’s the lack of adequate transparency that increases the vulnerability of public officials to outside influences.
Other provinces act quickly at the first hint of possible links between public bodies and organized crime, as the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec did this February, when Le Journal de Montreal reported that the spouse of Martine Gaudreault, vice-president real estate financing at Otéra Capital, a real estate subsidiary of the Caisse was suspected of having exactly that: ties with “people related to organized crime.”
The Caisse immediately suspended Gaudreault and launched “an internal investigation over the allegations.” The four month, $5 million investigation “involved 120 people, including a team of specialized lawyers, forensic accountants, criminal intelligence experts and other experts in economic intelligence specialized in money laundering issues.”
Last month, the Caisse sacked Gaudreault and three other executives. As Michael Sabia, chief executive officer of the Caisse, said: “Every day, when I come in to work at the Caisse, I have in my head the question of the importance of our integrity.”
Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal was under RCMP investigation for months last year, after his gambling activities “triggered the disclosure requirements of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).”
Again action was swift. Grewal was removed from caucus and prevented from seeking re-election as a federal Liberal candidate.
There was a story recently in Business in Vancouver that included this line: “With B.C.’s economy partly supported by the proceeds of crime, the whole province could suffer financially if the B.C. government is successful at cutting the flow of dirty money into legitimate assets.”
Let that sink in.
For a few, recent events at the legislature have focused more on the Speaker, Darryl Plecas, and his personality than the allegations of wrong-doing that he has brought forward.
Alberta’s conflict-of-interest legislation for MLAs is counted in pages – 88 to be exact – and B.C.’s in words – all 4,600 of them – perhaps it’s time to start addressing some of the deficiencies in the province’s accountability department.
When government credit cards are used at an establishment where bikers feel quite at home, we have a problem and part of the solution is in the answer to one simple question: does the B.C. government really know who it does business with?
These are not isolated issues.
One of the other comments discovered during this research: “I feel so good, like anything is possible.” It was a young man’s second to last Facebook post.
A few days later he posted for the last time, the next one was from his mother, “I asked God in the wee hours of the morning this, “please let no other mother stare out a window waiting for their child to come home or to yearn to have just one more kiss, one more I love you.”
“Please dear God keep all the mothers I know and the ones I don’t safe from this!”
Her son’s death was tagged “suspicious.” He too was a patron at the Tap House.