An Orange County engineer who harbors a simmering grudge against the Internal Revenue Service pleaded not guilty Monday to launching five bomb attacks on IRS offices throughout Southern California.
Dean Harvey Hicks, described by his Costa Mesa neighbors as a solitary man, faces up to 110 years in prison and $4.5 million in fines if convicted on all 18 federal charges against him, Assistant U.S. Atty. George B. Newhouse said.
Appearing before a federal magistrate, Hicks pleaded innocent to multiple counts of using a destructive device against a federal facility, possession of unregistered explosives and attempting to impede the administration of IRS laws. He was scheduled for a Sept. 17 trial before U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew.
Investigators said that Hicks, who earns $55,000 a year as an electrical engineer at Loral Corp. in Newport Beach, has been angry at the IRS since 1981 when the agency disallowed an $8,500 charitable deduction for the Universal Life Church and assessed a hefty penalty against him.
In an interview with FBI agents after his arrest on July 11, Hicks confessed responsibility for the bombings and said he was furious because an IRS employee laughed at him when he telephoned to ask a question, Newhouse said.
Hicks is accused of planting explosive devices at IRS offices in Laguna Niguel and West Los Angeles during the period from 1987 to 1990. A separate indictment in Fresno charges him with bombing an IRS office there, Newhouse said. The attacks caused no injuries and resulted in little or moderate property damage.
Arresting Hicks at his home, investigators discovered what they described as "a virtual bomb factory" in his garage. An FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court stated that Hicks' handwriting has been matched to the envelopes of letters claiming responsibility for some of the attacks on behalf of a group called "Up The IRS Inc."
The court documents said that investigators found that Hicks' job gave him access to some materials used in the bombings, and that the purchase of other explosive components was traced to him. Surveying his desk at work, investigators spotted three anti-IRS cartoons, including one that "shows the tax court taking everything from a hapless individual, leaving him with nothing but his underwear," the affidavit said.
Hicks is suspected of firing mortars on March 2, 1987, at the Chet Holifield federal building in Laguna Niguel, which housed the IRS office. He allegedly targeted the facility again on July 8, 1988, when the Orange County Sheriff's Department bomb squad discovered a pipe bomb in the hills nearby, buried at the base of a power pole that services the building.
Hicks is believed to be responsible for the explosion of a car bomb on Sept. 19, 1988, in the basement parking garage of a building in the 11000 block of West Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, which contains an IRS office.
The 1971 Toyota Corolla used in that attack helped lead investigators to Hicks. The car was stolen from the parking lot of Ford Aerospace--now Loral Corp.--on Sept. 2, 1988. A week after the Sept. 19 explosion, the owner of the stolen car received an anonymous $500 in the mail, the affidavit said.
Prosecutors blame Hicks for the March 20, 1989, explosion of three pipe bombs tied to power poles a block south of the IRS office where the car bomb blew up the previous September.
Potentially the most damaging among attacks investigators say they have traced to Hicks was one that occurred on Feb. 22, 1990, when a truck parked near the West Olympic Boulevard IRS office caught fire after several mortars were lobbed into it.
Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, unaware that the truck contained 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate that could have leveled two city blocks, killed hundreds of people and created a 40-foot-wide crater if the flames had detonated it, Newhouse said.