Five years ago, in Grand Jury testimony legally obtained by this page, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent John Ciccone testified under oath that the Mongols Motorcycle Club is not a racket.
What may be most revealing about the essentially corrupt prosecution of the current case against the Mongols is that Ciccone gave the testimony at the inception of the felony case California v. Fernandez. And, the events which led to the prosecution a Mongol named Mario Fernandez are exactly the same events which constitute Overt Act 1 in the indictment US v. Cavazos et al.
After reading both Ciccone’s Grand Jury testimony of July 7th, 2004 and numerous sworn statements the ATF Agent has made during Operation Black Rain, a reasonable person might conclude that Ciccone either metamorphosized into someone new or he committed perjury.
Violence And Racketeering
In October 2009, after a three-year-long investigation orchestrated by Ciccone the Mongols were charged with the federal crime of being a “Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organization.” The Department of Justice has been accusing motorcycle clubs of being “rackets” since 1982 but until now the charge has always been made with a wink and a smile.
Since the term was coined in 1927, “racketeering” has always been used to define a narrow range of highly lucrative, illegal and self-perpetuating businesses. At the time the Federal RICO statute was passed, racketeering meant either a “protection racket” which extorted cash payments from vulnerable small businesses; gambling (which is now a routine business of government) combined with loan sharking (which used to mean charging the interest rates which credit card companies now routinely charge;) or running a vertically integrated monopoly on addictive drugs, particularly heroin. The RICO law also allowed the inclusion of certain otherwise legitimate businesses as part of a “criminal enterprise.” Usually these businesses were bars, restaurants and bowling alleys through which illegal profits were “laundered.”
Really, until the current Mongols case, nobody was stupid enough to believe that what was objectionable about motorcycle clubs was that they were rackets. Plausibly, in the last forty years a majority of Americans have found motorcycle clubs in particular and bikers in general to be offensive but never because they were racketeers.
Bikers have always regarded themselves as idealistic and alienated but never as materialistic. No one has ever joined a motorcycle club because they thought it was a good way to get rich quick.
Good citizens did not like bikers because they saw them as violent, depraved, hoodlums who dressed like Nazi pirates. People feared bikers and sometimes demanded that something “be done about them” because they were afraid of biker violence.
And that apprehension was grounded in truth. Bikers, especially motorcycle club members, have always used violence as a boundary marker. In 1967 Hunter Thompson described outlaw bikers to ABC like this: “They get together and they can frighten people who might ordinarily frighten them.”
Ciccone orchestrated an earlier investigation of the Mongols called Operation Ivan and by all accounts that investigation resulted from concerns about a series of “violent assaults” allegedly carried out by members of the motorcycle club.
In a recent interview William Queen, the chief ATF Undercover investigator in Operation Ivan emphasized the violence of the Mongols but never once mentioned that he thought they were a racket.
“They had that violent reputation” Queen said. “They’re about violence. John Ciccone wanted to stop them,” (because they were violent.) At the outset of Operation Ivan, the ATF, which is a federal police force, had no reason to believe that any of the Mongols were breaking any federal laws at all, let alone the federal law against racketeering. The ATF thought the investigation would result in positive publicity and was guessing that some Mongols were breaking federal gun laws.
“What we were hoping to do,” Queen explained, “was get next to the club where we could buy guns from guys in the club. Where we could buy dope from guys in the club. Where we could identify or maybe even see some of the assaults that were occurring there.”
Ultimate Fighting Championships Brawl
The initial “Overt Act” of “racketeering” in the most recent Mongols indictment has been officially described in a California court as follows:
“On March 16, 2002, defendant and other members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club (Mongols) attended the Ultimate Fighting Championships, a boxing-type event held at the Morongo Indian Reservation. The event was held in a large tent, with approximately 2,200 people attending. The Mongols consisted of a large group of bikers wearing motorcycle black jackets and black shirts, bandannas, and patches displaying their group insignia. About 50 to 75 Mongols sat together in a section that also included other spectators.
“During one of the scheduled bouts, the referee called a foul because one of the Ultimate Fighters struck the other fighter in the groin. When the referee paused the fight, several Mongols stood up and threw plastic cups of beer toward the boxing ring. Spectators sitting between the Mongols and the ring stood up and looked at the Mongols.
“One such spectator, Alex Ledesma, was hit by flying beer. He stood up and threw his beer back into the group of Mongols. A Mongol named Lucifer pointed his finger at Alex, approached him, and said, ‘You.’ Alex said, ‘Forget about it,’ grinned, and exchanged words with Mongols, Marco Antonio Reyes and another man, presumably defendant (Fernandez.) Alex’s brother, Mario Ledesma, who was with Alex, told the two men he did not want any trouble.
“Defendant hit Alex behind the head. While on the floor, someone hit him with a chair and stomped on his face with a biker’s boot. Mario was also hit numerous times but could not see who was attacking him because he was on the floor trying to cover up.
“This led to other fights breaking out and chaos, resulting in a melee and riot situation, with over 100 officers responding to the scene. A group of Mongols rushed toward the ring. Mongols fought with other spectators and threw chairs.”
Violence For Profit Or Respect
The important legal question about the Mongols and violence is whether the club is violent for profit.
The indictment US versus Cavazos et al. argues that the Mongols Motorcycle Club is first and foremost a drug trafficking racket and that the club maintains its drug monopoly through violence. So far, scores of Mongols defendants have been coerced into agreeing to that assertion.
“Mongols members and leaders frequently engage in the distribution of narcotic drugs, especially methamphetamine and cocaine, as a source of income, both within the organization and to outside customers and associates,” the indictment flatly states. “Proceeds from drug-trafficking are then owed to the Mongols leadership and ‘Mother Chapter’ and collected in the form of “dues” and membership fees. Large-scale drug traffickers within the organization are often ‘taxed’ at a higher rate within the organization, and their membership in and payments to the larger Mongols organization are used as a means to protect them from the same types of penalties and ‘taxes’ that would ordinarily be claimed by rival street gangs and Mexican Mafia (aka ‘La Eme‘) representatives in the areas controlled by those rival gangs. Mongols members also are authorized to call on other Mongols and Mongols leadership to enforce the collection of proceeds owed from their narcotics customers.”
The idea the government has been trying to prove for the last fourteen months, is that the Mongols must never let down their guard of violence lest they be perceived as weak by their competitors in the illegal narcotics business. “Mongols gang members also enforce the authority of the Mongols by directing attacks against…members of the general public who might defy or unwittingly come into contact with the Mongols in a way that might be deemed ‘disrespectful’ to the organization. Persons in conflict with, or who might be perceived to have shown disrespect to, Mongols may be beaten severely or even killed by being kicked repeatedly with steel-toed boots, stabbed or shot.”
Ciccone Speaks To The Grand Jury
The notion that the Mongols are a violent business has largely been substantiated by sworn statements and testimony of Special Agent Ciccone to multiple grand juries, judges and federal attorneys. Ciccone has also perpetuated the argument to numerous friendly media outlets.
The fact is though either Ciccone is guilty of blatant and cynical sophistry or his thinking has radically evolved. This is what Ciccone said under oath in July 2004:
Ciccone: That is really what the Mongols are about. They are involved in numerous assaults, stabbings, and required to assist one another. And that is why you rarely see
a one-on-one fight. It is always 12 on one, 13 on one. And they just send the message: “That is how we are.” And it is just the fear thing and intimidation thing.
State Attorney: How does respect play into the Mongols? I mean, the term “respect for the gang” and “respect for other members of the gang?” And, if they are disrespected, how does that play all into the gang mentality?
Ciccone: Well, it is a big thing for the Mongols. Like I said, they are not in it to make money. (Emphasis added by this page.) They are in it just for that one thing alone, fear and intimidation. And they want the respect. And that’s how they get it.
At no point in his testimony as an authority on motorcycle clubs in general and on the Mongols in particular does Ciccone ever so much as suggest that the Mongols are violent as part of their “racketeering activity.” But seeing things as they actually are was not enough to “shut down the Mongols.” So Ciccone learned to look at things as they might possibly be.
In comments made on this site last June Ciccone said “the Mongols escaped relatively unscathed,” after Operation Ivan. And, about the evolution in his thinking he added, “John Ciccone was not nearly as smart and wily as he is now….”