A Mongols motorcycle gang member's vest shows the club's logo. (Associated Press )
Federal prosecutors Monday requested a final judicial order to block the Mongols motorcycle gang from using its name and wearing or distributing its trademarked logo.
If U.S. District Judge Otis Wright signs the order, the government will own the logo and club's name. This is the first time the U.S. government has sought control of a gang's identity through a court order, an effort three years in the making.
The U.S. attorney's office said the insignia — a ponytailed man riding a chopper — is "very, very closely identified with the organization," and by removing access to the logo, the Mongols are further prevented from operating.
"This patch is a central element of the identity of the gang. We're trying to dismantle a criminal organization and we're trying to use whatever tools we can to do it," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. "In this case it shows our determination to go after this organization as a whole — top to bottom leadership — and after the proceeds of criminal activity."
The Mongols were formed in the 1970s by a small group of Latinos who were reportedly rejected by the Hells Angels. Gang members were known for using violence to impose their will both on other gangs and the public, and race was often a motive.
A 2008 racketeering indictment accused Mongols members of murder, assault, drug trafficking and robbery after a massive, three-year undercover effort dubbed "Operation Black Rain." Seventy-nine gang members from six states were indicted. Mrozek said dozens have been found guilty.
At the time of the indictment, the Mongols had between 500 and 600 members, most of them in Southern California, though the club also operated elsewhere in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
One of those indicted was former Mongol president Ruben "Doc" Cavazos, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is expected to be sentenced later this year.
While heading the gang, Cavazos registered and trademarked the Mongol logo, Mrozek said. After Cavazos pleaded guilty to the criminal charges, prosecutors realized they could request that the logo be forfeited because the trademarks were used while the club was involved in criminal activity.
"The fact that they wanted legal protection" for the logo gave authorities "both the idea and the avenue to go after the logo," Mrozek said.
A judge issued an injunction in late 2008 prohibiting members of the gang from wearing the logo. Wright issued a preliminary order of forfeiture last year but reversed his decision in September after the Mongol Nation Motorcycle Club Inc. argued that the trademark and logo were a collective membership mark — meaning it identified a group of people — and therefore could not be owned solely by one person.
"It's legally impossible for one person to own a collective membership mark, so if it's illegal, they can't take it," said attorney George Steele, who is representing the Mongols.
Prosecutors have since worked to prove that members of the club knew Cavazos was the sole owner of the logo and said they had prepared evidence showing such. Wright, however, did not hear oral arguments at Monday's hearing.
Though Wright has yet to make a decision, Mrozek said it remains to be seen what effect the judge's ruling could have on future cases involving gangs.
"It's hard to say," Mrozek said. "The trademark aspect is a very important detail, and I'm not aware of a particular clique of a Latino gang or the Crips that would be an example of an analogous situation. It's hard to extrapolate this out because we are dealing with a unique set of circumstances."
Mrozek said Wright could make his decision at any time.