LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California jury decided Friday that the Mongols motorcycle gang should be stripped of its trademarked logo in a first-of-its-kind verdict, federal prosecutors said.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana previously found Mongol Nation, the entity that owns the image of a Mongol warrior on a chopper, guilty of racketeering and conspiracy.
The verdict caps an unusual decade-long quest by prosecutors to dismantle the gang responsible for drug dealing and murder by seizing control of the trademark they said was core to the gang's identity.
Gang members were "empowered by these symbols that they wear like armor," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Welk said.
Defense lawyer Joseph Yanny had argued that the organization didn't tolerate criminal activity and kicked out bad members. He said the government targeted the group because of its large Mexican-American population and turned the crimes of some into a "group conviction."
"These are ordinary people," Yanny said. "They are hardworking people. You don't see the Hells Angels here."
Last month, former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura testified for the defense, denying the Mongols were a criminal gang. Ventura said he neither committed crimes nor was told to do so when he was a Mongol in the 1970s.
But jurors found the Mongols were a criminal enterprise responsible for murder, attempted murder and drug dealing.
Killers in the gang were awarded a special skull-and-crossbones patch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Brunwin said.
He told jurors about the killing of a Hells Angels leader in San Francisco, a Nevada brawl in 2002 that left members of both clubs dead, and the death of a Pomona, California, policeman who was killed as he broke down the door of a Mongols member to serve a search warrant in 2014.
The effort to take the logo followed the racketeering convictions of 77 gang members in 2008 after U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents infiltrated the gang.
Four male ATF agents became "full-patch" members and four female agents posed as their girlfriends during the lengthy investigation.
"Being a Mongol promises you one of two things - death or prison," a member told one of the agents who received a coveted patch, prosecutors said.
The Mongols was founded in a Los Angeles suburb in 1969. The group is estimated to have more than 1,000 riders in chapters worldwide.
The verdict will lead to the forfeiture of the gang's legal interest in the word "Mongols" and some of their patches, as well as Mongols items seized during the investigation, prosecutors said.
A judge who will sentence the gang at a future hearing could also impose fines.