By Sean Emery
The first-of-its-kind effort to convict the Mongols organization, rather than specific members, of racketeering in order to strip members of their well-known insignia is almost certain to make its way before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Above, motorcycle club members rally Saturday, March 29, 2013 at The House Lounge in Maywood. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/Pasadena Star-News)
A federal judge on Friday ordered the notorious Mongols motorcycle club to pay a $500,000 fine as part of a first-of-its-kind court case centered on the government’s unsuccessful efforts so far to seize control of the prized patches that adorn the vests worn by members of the outlaw organization.
The fine, as well as an order by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter that the Mongols’ organization be placed on five years of supervised probation, brings to a close the latest chapter in a decade-plus court battle between federal prosecutors and the motorcycle club.
The larger legal battle is far from over, however, with the government’s attempts to take control of the patches that depict the club’s name and an illustration of a ponytailed, Ghengis Khan-type motorcycle rider almost certain to make its way before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Santa Ana jury late last year found the Southern California-based organization – rather than specific members – guilty of racketeering and agreed that the government should be able to take the Mongols’ patches and trademarks. But Judge Carter in February overrode a portion of the verdict, ruling that seizing the club’s trademark would be unconstitutional.
Prosecutors urged Carter to impose a $1 million fine against the Mongols, while an attorney for the club suggested a $50,000 fine. In ordering the $500,000 fine, Carter specified that it could be paid in monthly installments, leaving the club the financial ability to fund the expected appeals.
“Don’t invite the Hells Angels to your fundraisers, people seem to get killed,” Carter jokingly told the club leaders. “Let’s knock that off.”
In an unusual turn of events, attorneys for the Mongols publicly argued Friday over the club’s current finances.
Joseph Yanny, who represented the Mongols during the racketeering trial, described the club as “destitute” and told the judge that it still owed him nearly $500,000 in legal fees. Minutes later, Stephen Stubbs, the club’s general counsel, told the judge the club is “financially sound,” noting it had fund-raised $87,000 in a year toward the nearly $1 million in legal fees from the motorcycle club community, and disputing that it still owed Yanny any money.
In this case, the Mongols organization was convicted of engaging in drug trafficking, vicious assaults and even murder, with much of the violence tied to a long-running rivalry between the Mongols and the Hells Angels’ motorcycle club. During last year’s trial, prosecutors described attacks, some fatal, in bars and restaurants in Hollywood, Pasadena, Merced, La Mirada, Wilmington and Riverside.
“There is no acceptance of responsibility, no remorse, no acknowledgement that people have died – violence this organization has rewarded,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Brunwin said.
A separate, earlier case against specific Mongols members ended with 77 people pleading guilty to racketeering-related charges.
This case stems from Operation Black Rain, a multi-agency investigation in which law enforcement agents infiltrated the Mongols. Attorneys for the club argue that the alleged crimes took place under its previous president, Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, and say the current members are being punished for the actions of those no longer involved in the organization.
“Doc Cavazos and his crew were kicked out of the club,” Yanny said. “I believe this club has suffered enough already at the hands of the government. Enough is enough.”
Under the terms of the club’s probation, Mongols leaders will be assigned a probation officer, and will be subject to searches and seizures at its club facilities.
Formed in Montebello in the 1970s, the club is now based in West Covina.
Source: Orange County Register