Harveys bombing featured on History Channel

by Sheila Gardner / The Record-Courier

Friday night’s episode of “Shockwave” on the History Channel includes a story on the 1980 bombing at Harveys Resort Casino.

Co-executive producer John Johnston said the 10-minute segment includes interviews with Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini, retired FBI Special Agent Bill Jonkey and former Harveys floor manager Bill Fletcher.

Pierini was a sheriff’s department captain at the Stateline substation when the bomb exploded Aug. 27, 1980.

There were no injuries, but the explosion caused $15 million in damage to the hotel-casino.

“What we try to do is take incredible moments in history caught on tape and take viewers behind that moment, introduce you to the people who were there and tell as much of the story we possibly can,” Johnston said.

He recalled working as an intern at the TV station KCRA in Sacramento when the bomb exploded.

“The Harveys bombing was an incredible moment in gambling history,” Johnston said. “When the thing did go off, it caused a great deal of disbelief in the newsroom.”

Johnston said “Shockwave” uses computer-graphic imaging to create a blueprint of the bomb.

“It’s pretty detailed and really interesting,” he said.

Mastermind John Birges and his accomplices wheeled the 1,000-pound bomb into the executive offices of Harveys on Aug. 26, 1980.

The bomb was made up to look like a 1980 computer, down to the silk cover stitched with “IBM” and made by Birges’ girlfriend.

Prosecutors said Birges wanted to get even for being bounced out of a high-roller suite at the hotel. He had been a frequent guest at Harveys and had dined at casino owner Harvey Gross’ ranch north of Genoa.

Birges wanted $3 million, so he left a note offering to exchange instructions on how to dismantle the bomb in return for the money.

When the extortionist’s plans fell apart, the sheriff’s department, bomb squad and FBI agents made a decision to try to disarm the device. The bomb blew up in the process.

Birges died in prison in 1996 of liver cancer at age 74.

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