About one o’clock yesterday afternoon a nine-woman, three-man jury in the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, California found Mongol Nation: An Unincorporated Association guilty of racketeering and conspiracy to racketeer.
Red Sox Nation, Baylor Nation and Bachelor Nation might be next. In a breathtakingly short time, a couple of Department of Justice dust bunnies named Christopher Brunwin and Steven Welk have advanced from prosecuting the perpetrators of illegal acts to successfully prosecuting an affinity – we’re talking about an affinity – for a group with symbols that indicate membership in a brotherhood which has some members who arguably committed illegal acts.
This case has always seemed like a stretch since it was filed in 2013. It still does. Not that you will read that kind of antisocial skepticism anywhere else.
The newspapers and the talking heads today are fountains of lies. The Los Angeles Times’ headline is “Mongols biker gang found guilty in racketeering case, moving government closer to seizing trademark.” Let’s count the inaccuracies in those 14 words together.
One, Two, Three
There is a group called the Mongols Motorcycle Club. Prosecutors, rude cops and hack journalists only call it the Mongols motorcycle gang because they haven’t got the huevos to publicly call he club the “Mongols Motorcycle Assholes” the “Mongols Motorcycle Mafia” or the “Mongols Motorcycle Perverts.” But the effect on people who can only see with their brains is the same. Actually, the Mongols Motorcycle Club wasn’t convicted of anything.
“Mongol Nation,” which is a turn of phrase, a metaphor to describe us versus them in certain specific circumstances and a legal fiction, was convicted. Prosecutors contrived a definition for “Mongol Nation” in this case in order to prosecute somebody under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Brunwin and Welk took great pains to convince the jury that Mongol Nation is an actual adjunct to the “Mongols gang.” It isn’t. Unfortunately, you can convict all of a jury some of the time.
The government is not after a trademark. Trademarks are used in commerce. “Ritz Crackers” is a trademark and last May Intercontinental Great Brands LLC, which used to call itself Kraft Foods, sued a Chinese company over that trademark’s misappropriation. The Mongols does not sell crackers, condoms or sex toys. The Mongols is no more engaged in commerce than the Sisters of Loreto. The marks in question are “collective membership marks.“
What happened yesterday was that the jury unanimously decided that the government had proven that Mongol Nation was responsible for five of nine racketeering acts: Conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine; the distribution of methamphetamine in Los Angeles on November 26, 2006; the beating death of a man named Leon Huddleston in a dive bar in Lancaster, California by a patched Mongol and a non-Mongol on February 14, 2007; the attempted murder of two Hells Angel prospects on April 6, 2008; and the distribution of methamphetamine by patched members of the club on June 19, 2008.
The jury unanimously decided that the government had not proven “Mongol Nation” culpable for three other “overt acts” of racketeering: An attempted murder at a toy run in Riverside County, California on December 4, 2005; the murder of Hells Angel Mark “Papa” Guardado by Mongol Christopher “Stonee” Ablett in San Francisco on September 2, 2008; and the murder of a man named Bill James outside a Gustine, California bar on November 6, 2009 by six men prosecutors alleged were members or associates of the Mongols.
The jury could not decide if Mongol Nation was guilty of what the government characterized as two attempted murders outside Nicola’s adult entertainment club on April 8, 2007. Two members of the jury thought Mongol Nation was guilty of that. Ten jurors did not.
The jurors were meticulous in their deliberations. They began asking Judge David O. Carter questions about the verdict forms at ten yesterday morning. After they rendered their verdict they were surprised to learn their work was not complete. The fact that there will be a forfeiture phase to this trial had been kept secret from them.
The trial will resume on Tuesday, January 8 when the same jurors will listen to about three days of testimony and argument about what Mongol Nation has that the government might want to steal.
The connection between the Mongols Motorcycle Club or Mongol Nation and the violent acts is difficult to substantiate. One of the two men who beat Huddleston to death, for example, wasn’t even a Mongol. The Mongol involved in the beating was not wearing any Mongols insignia.
Joe Yanny, the Century City attorney who represented the club said today that he thinks the case boiled down to the three drug convictions. “And you would find more drugs in a frat house on a Saturday night.”
Yanny plans to file a Rule 29 Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal before the case ends. He said he still hasn’t decided when, but he might wait until after the forfeiture phase. “In case there is something about the forfeiture that I want to address.”
Next month, Brunwin and Welk will probably try to convince the jury to strip the Mongols of all their patches, not just their back patch. It is unlikely that Judge Carter will let that happen because that would be blatantly unconstitutional. No matter what Carter decides, his ruling will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And no matter what those judges rule, unless Brunwin and Welk just give up, this case will end up where all the big First Amendment cases end up, before the Supreme Court of the United States.