SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — An unusual criminal trial against a motorcycle gang began Wednesday with a federal prosecutor promising jurors they would soon watch members of the Mongol Nation committing acts of violence and hear the bikers describe and even boast about their crimes — yet no one will go to jail.
“The Mongol Nation is an organization that encouraged, supported and rewarded its members for committing crime,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Brunwin said in his opening statement. “This is going to come out of their own mouths. You’ll hear them bragging, chanting, even rapping about their crimes.”
But as defense attorney Joseph A. Yanny told the Orange County jury later: “No one is going to jail out of this trial.”
The Mongol Nation itself is on trial as an “unincorporated association,” accused of racketeering and conspiracy. No individual members or officers are defendants in the case.
Instead, federal prosecutors’ goal is to seize, through criminal forfeiture, the gang’s trademark to its distinctive insignia or “patch.” The design shows the word “Mongols” above what has been described as “a cartoonish depiction of a Genghis Khan-like character riding a motorcycle.”
In a statement about the case several years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said: “If we prevail in the current case, no member of the gang would be allowed to wear the trademark that we believe is synonymous with the group.”
Prosecution of the Mongols dates back more than a decade, and legal disputes over seizing the trademarks nearly as far. The gang at one point sued the federal government over the issues. Several trademark experts have questioned the government’s forfeiture attempt, and an ACLU chapter fought it on free-speech grounds.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is hearing the case, blocked that effort in 2015, but the Ninth Circuit reversed him on other grounds last year.
Potentially as damaging to the club as the trademark seizure, if less legally tricky, the government also “intends to seek a money judgment against defendant equal to … the full amount of proceeds obtained by defendant” from the many criminal activities of the gang described in the indictment, prosecutors said in a June court pleading.
Those activities include “graphic, unpleasant” and violent murders and assaults, Brunwin said, as well as drug trafficking.
Many of the Mongols’ crimes were captured on surveillance video, he said. Many of the leaders’ encounters and meetings were recorded by four undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who infiltrated the gang in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Thanks to the many recordings, the prosecutor said, “You’re going to see who’s being attacked and who’s trying to defend themselves.”
To support the racketeering charges, the indictment lists four murders, three attempted murders and four drug crimes allegedly committed by gang members.
During his opening statement, Brunwin also described some of the many other crimes listed as “overt acts” in the indictment.