Man Convicted of Plot to Use Bomb in Tahoe Casino Extortion

United Press International

A Fresno man has been convicted of masterminding a plot to extort $3 million from a Lake Tahoe casino by planting a bomb that exploded and caused $12 million in damage.

A Nevada district court jury Thursday found John Birges Sr. guilty on eight of nine counts. He was acquitted of a charge of damaging a building with explosives.

Birges faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He already is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for convictions on similar charges.


Birges and his accomplices were accused of building a bomb in Fresno, taking it to Lake Tahoe and placing it in Harvey’s Wagon Wheel casino in August, 1980.

They demanded a $3-million ransom but the attempt to pay it failed when a helicopter pilot could not find the location for the drop. The bomb exploded after efforts to disarm it failed. No one was injured, but it caused $12 million in damage.

Birges, considered a “high roller” at the casino, said a person called “Charlie” forced him to plant the bomb in the casino as repayment of $60,000 for gaming loans. He said this was to allow Harvey Gross, the late owner of the casino, to collect $50 million in insurance when the hotel was destroyed.

Three of Birges’ accomplices in the case were sentenced earlier. Another defendant, Ella J. Williams, was ordered to trial July 29. Her first trial ended in a hung jury last month.