The official government spokesman for the prosecution in the Mongols case said earlier today that the government has proved that the Mongols Motorcycle Club is a criminal organization. The spokesman also said the government still intends to confiscate the club’s patch.
So far, 61 of 79 defendants indicted on October 9, 2008 have pled guilty to Count One of that indictment. Count One states:
“Beginning on a date unknown, and continuing to on or about October 9, 2008, in Los Angeles County, within the Central District of California and elsewhere, (the) defendants and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, being persons employed by and associated with the Mongols criminal enterprise, which enterprise engaged in and the activities of which affected interstate and foreign commerce, unlawfully and knowingly combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together and with each other to violate Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962, that is, to conduct and participate, directly and indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, as that term is defined in Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961(1) and 1961(5), consisting of multiple acts involving murder, in violation of California Penal Code Sections 31, 182, 187, 189, 217.1, and 664; robbery, in violation of California Penal Code Sections 211, 212.5(a), and 213; distribution of controlled substances, including methamphetamine and cocaine, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and 846; and multiple acts indictable under Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956 and 1957 (money laundering). It was a further part of the conspiracy that each defendant agreed that a conspirator would commit at least two
acts of racketeering in the conduct of the affairs of the enterprise.”
Charges against one defendant, Jorge Cottini were dismissed after he died in custody. Another defendant named Peter Soto has not yet been arraigned. One defendant named in the indictment pled guilty to selling drugs but not to racketeering. Fifteen defendants await their day in court.
The United States Department of Justice has been trying to use the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute to outlaw motorcycle clubs since 1982. Currently, the federal government is also trying to outlaw the Pagans Motorcycle Club in a case being litigated in West Virginia.
Until now, it has been impossible to convict motorcycle clubs of racketeering because motorcycle clubs are not rackets. Motorcycle clubs are often anti-social and secretive organizations. Individual members of motorcycle clubs are often personally violent and contemptuous of laws they feel are unreasonable or that should not apply to them. Large groups of outlaw motorcyclists are often intentionally intimidating to outsiders but clubs are not rackets and most patch holders are refreshingly anti-materialistic when compared to actual racketeers.
Nevertheless motorcycle club cases can only become federal cases if a federal law can be said to be broken so for the last 30 years that law has been the RICO statute.
Most of the allegations in the current Mongols case have been for violations that should more properly be tried in state courts. Individual Mongols were accused of drug possession and sales, gun possession and sales, a shooting, at least one stabbing, menacing and several fights that were often unfair. Some of these offenses go back to 2002 and the way federal prosecutors have been able to connect them is by creating a legal fiction of racketeering.
“Predicate offenses” to which individual defendants have confessed in this case include participation in Mongols events, being elected an officer in a Mongols chapter and possession of Mongols paraphernalia. The government’s logic in the case has always been circular: The Mongols Motorcycle Club is a racket because members have pled guilty to participating in the Mongols racket because belonging to the Mongols means participating in a racket which means the Mongols Motorcycle Club is a racket.
What The Pleas May Mean
Even after the Federal Judge presiding over the case, Florence-Marie Cooper, ruled in a related civil suit that membership in the Mongols is probably a constitutionally protected right, the government continued to coerce defendants into pleading guilty to racketeering. Until now, no government spokesman or official has ever bothered to explain why the government has continued to pursue guilty pleas to Count One for the last five months.
But earlier today, Thom Mrozek the Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, kindly explained that even if the Mongols are not a racket the guilty pleas at least make them look like one.
“Most of the defendants named in the federal indictment have now pleaded guilty, with all of those admitting that they were part of a racketeering enterprise,” Mrozek said. “The admissions made in court by actual members of the Mongols clearly demonstrate that the motorcycle gang is a criminal organization whose members have participated in a wide range of illegal and violent activities.”
The point seems to be that image is everything and reality is only one of many competing points of view.
Government Still Wants Mongols Patch
Earlier this week in a widely republished story in the San Gabriel Valley News, John Torres, the Special Agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said the government still intended to seize control of the Mongols Motorcycle Club “collective membership marks.” Those marks are the name “Mongols” used to refer to a club and the club’s logo.
Last summer Judge Cooper wrote that those marks cannot be seized. She wrote:
“In contrast to commercial trademarks, which are used in commerce and generally not entitled to full First Amendment protections, collective membership marks are used by members of an organization to ‘indicate membership in a union, an association, or other organization.’ The use and display of collective membership marks therefore directly implicate the First Amendment’s right to freedom of association. The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘implicit in the right to engage in activities protected by the First Amendment’ is ‘a corresponding right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends.’ This right is crucial in preventing the majority from imposing its views on groups that would rather express other, perhaps unpopular, ideas.’ Furthermore, clothing identifying one’s association with an organization is generally considered expressive conduct entitled to First Amendment protection….”
In a confusing quote, Torres seemed to tell the News that even if the government could not legally seize collective membership marks it still wanted other motorcycle clubs to think it could. “That process is still moving forward,” Torres told the News. “No one has ‘won’ the case. It’s just the message that we want to put out to them and other gangs that may use the same type of indica to identify themselves.”
When asked today to clarify Torres’ comment, Mrozek explained, “The government continues to seek the forfeiture of the Mongols trademarks. The issue is the subject of ongoing litigation in the courts, and we will continue to fight to prevent anyone from using the trademark to indicate any affiliation with the criminal organization.”