SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — The Mongol Nation motorcycle club is a gang “built around crime,” a federal prosecutor told an Orange County jury Monday during arguments at the end of an unusual, five-week trial. That’s the reason it’s there. That’s what it does,” the prosecutor said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Welk added that for decades, “this gang, this enterprise, has been a beehive of pernicious criminal activity.”
But defense attorney Joseph A. Yanny said the prosecution of the Mongol Nation was concocted by corrupt federal agents out of falsehoods, coerced plea deals and entrapment.
“These are ordinary people,” Yanny said of the predominantly Latino members of the motorcycle club. “The only crime they committed is showing up some place under suspicion of being Mexican.”
Repeating a line from his opening statement at the end of October, Yanny said the prosecution’s case “is still the best work of fiction I’ve heard.”
Welk and his fellow prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Brunwin, have charged the “unincorporated association” known as the Mongol Nation with racketeering and conspiracy. The case is the culmination of a lengthy investigation begun in 2005 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, called Operation Black Rain.
In a 2008 prosecution, 79 Mongols and associates entered guilty pleas to various crimes.
But this time, no individuals have been charged. Instead, prosecutors are seeking to use criminal forfeiture to take away ownership of the Mongols’ trademarked logo and insignia, or “patch,” that club members wear on the back of their vests, or “cuts.”
The trademark covers the word “Mongols” in an arc over a large drawing of a Genghis Khan-like fellow with a queue and sunglasses riding a motorcycle and waving a sword.
According to a statement about the case several years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office maintains that if it succeeds, “no member of the gang would be allowed to wear the trademark that we believe is synonymous with the group.”
Witnesses during the trial said the Mongols began in the early 1970s among returning Vietnam war veterans, many of them Latinos who were barred from joining the Hells Angels. One witness making that point was Jesse Ventura, the retired professional wrestler and former governor of Minnesota, who was active in the Mongols in 1973-74.
But Welk told the jury the gang began among prisoners.
“The evidence indicates this gang was violent and engaged in criminal activities form the time it was born in prison,” he said.
He ticked off nine separate crimes, described during trial, that he said the gang and its members committed from 2005 through this year, including murders, attempted murders and drug deals. In one, a Mongol stabbed a man in the face. In another, a Mongol and an associate kicked a young man and beat him to death with pool cues, apparently for disrespecting them.
In another case, a full member of the Mongol Nation, David Martinez, fired a shotgun at police serving a search warrant on Martinez’s home, killing a Pomona officer.
Yanny said Martinez was defending his family when police burst into his house very early on the morning of Oct. 28, 2014, unannounced.
Welk countered that police loudly announced themselves and that Martinez’s shot also wounded his own father, who was answering the door.
The prosecutor told the jury that a unique aspect of this case is that the individual perpetrators of the specific crimes are not in doubt. Many have pleaded guilty or are being prosecuted.
But that leaves open the question of the guilt of the defendant, the Mongol Nation as a whole, he said.
To prove the Mongol Nation violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, Welk said, he had to show that it is distinct from and worked together with the broader Mongol gang to commit crimes.
He argued that the Mongol Nation, by its constitution and rules, consists only of members who have proven themselves and been admitted to “full patch” membership. Other men — no women are admitted — who are part of the broader gang cannot wear the complete trademarked patch or must wear it with a distinguishing mark indicating their probationary status.
Those others can be “associates,” “hang-arounds,” “prospects,” and probationary members. They are part of the Mongol gang, Welk argued, but they are not yet officially part of the Mongol Nation entity.
However, he said most of the specific crimes charged against the defendant entity were committed by associates and others, in conjunction with full-patch members.
“These people who aren’t members, they’re doing things to further the (goals) of the organization,” he said, which shows that the gang and the defendant Mongol Nation worked together as a criminal enterprise in violation of the RICO Act.
The defense has described the Mongols as a brotherhood of men who love riding motorcycles and who adhere to a lifestyle particular to motorcycle clubs.
Welk described a different brotherhood to the jury.
“They are a brotherhood of arrogance, a brotherhood of hate … a brotherhood of contempt, a brotherhood of fear and ultimately, a brotherhood of death,” he said.
Yanny was to finish his closing defense argument on Tuesday, Brunwin to follow with a rebuttal argument.