Mongols Convicted of Racketeering, but Trial Isn’t Over

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — A federal jury Thursday convicted the Mongol Nation Motorcycle Club of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering for more than a decade. The verdict allows prosecutors to try to seize ownership of the club’s trademarked patch that members wear on their vests.

During a nearly month-long trial, prosecutors repeatedly described the Mongols as a “violent criminal organization” and a “gang,” and jurors apparently agreed.

They found the Mongol Nation club took part in a 2007 murder in Los Angeles, a 2008 attempted murder in Pasadena and drug trafficking transactions in 2006, 2008 and March of this year.

Jurors also found the organization conspired to commit multiple acts of murder, attempted murder and drug trafficking over many years

However, the jury determined that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher M. Brunwin and Steven R. Welk had not proved the club committed two other murders or a second attempted murder. The jury deadlocked on a third attempted murder.

The verdict is not the end of the trial. In an uncommon second phase, jurors will return next month to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter’s courtroom in Orange County to decide whether the federal government may seize the Mongols’ assets through criminal forfeiture — especially including the ownership of the club’s trademarked insignia that members wear on their vests.

The patch shows a cartoon Genghis Khan-type figure brandishing a sword and riding a motorcycle under a curved banner bearing the word “Mongols.”

Prosecutors also seek possession of weapons, ammunition, previously seized vests and other property.

Judge Carter said the possibility of forfeiting the Mongol Nation’s trademark makes this case one of first impression. “It’s going to go to the Ninth Circuit and maybe the Supreme Court,” he told the attorneys.

That is only one of the unusual aspects of the criminal case.

As lead defense attorney Joseph A. Yanny told the jury when the trial opened on Halloween, no one will go to jail as a result of the verdict. Individual defendants have previously been found guilty of the crimes for which their club has now been convicted.

To convict the Mongol Nation, an unincorporated association, jurors had to find that it had, in effect, joined in racketeering and conspiracy with itself.

According to Brunwin and Welk, the official club is made up of members who have advanced to a high status inthe group. The club then joined in a criminal enterprise with the broader Mongols “gang,” which includes probationary members and “hang-arounds.”

Yanny argued that the club and the so-called “gang” were one and the same, but the jury apparently disagreed.

After the verdict, Brunwin declined to discuss the case because the trial is continuing.

Mongol Nation general counsel Stephen Stubbs, a Las Vegas attorney who sat at the defense table with Yanny during the trial, blamed all the crimes attributed to the club on a previous president, who was thrown out.

“The Mongols recognized he was doing things that were inappropriate and they kicked him out,” Stubbs said. “The Mongols are not a criminal organization and gang.”

David Santillan, the Mongols’ current president, said he and the defense team were expecting a guilty verdict.Looking ahead to the fight over forfeiture, Santillian said the prosecution “won the battle, but they did not win the war.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles tried to use forfeiture against the patch trademark in 2008 at the same time it indicted 79 individual Mongols members and associates for various crimes.

A spokesperson said seizing the trademark would strip the club of its “very identity” because police would be able to take the vests right off members’ backs.  

Several trademark experts, however, have questioned whether the federal government could enforce the trademark in that way.

Susan M. Natland, a partner with Knobbe Martens and former adjunct trademarks professor at UCLA Law School, said the government could be found to have abandoned the patch trademark immediately, because it has no interest in providing goods and services under the mark, as the law requires.

That could mean the government could not prevent gang members from continuing to wear the patch, she said.

Jurors return to Carter’s courtroom on Jan. 8 to decide whether prosecutors demonstrated a “nexus” between the Mongol Nation’s crimes and the assets the government wants to seize.

The judge will decide whether and which forfeitures can happen.

Carter said he also intends to decide whether Mongols have a First Amendment right to wear the patch.

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