A federal judge delivered a blow Thursday to a decade-long effort by prosecutors to strip the Mongols motorcycle gang of its trademarked logo, ruling it would be unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana, California, essentially reversed a first-of-its-kind jury verdict that would have given the government control of the logo of a Mongol warrior astride a chopper-style motorcycle.
Carter said the seizure would violate the First Amendment rights of association and right of expression of association and the Eighth Amendment’s protections against excessive penalties, Mongols attorney Joe Yanny said.
“It’s an attempt at collective guilt, which has never been the law here in this country,” Yanny said. “You don’t hold people guilty or punish folks simply because they know people that may be related in some fashion to people who are alleged to have done something wrong.”
Prosecutors had successfully argued before a jury in January that the logo was core to the identity of the Los Angeles area-based gang responsible for drug dealing, beatings and murder and they wore the badges like armor.
The verdict appeared to conclude a 10-year quest to dismantle the gang after convicting 77 members in 2008 of racketeering charges.
While Carter affirmed recent racketeering verdicts against Mongols Nation — the gang itself — he refused to give prosecutors what they had long sought.
When prosecutors announced the charges in 2008 they said a forfeiture order would allow any law enforcement officer to stop a gang member and “literally take the jacket right off his back,” according to court papers.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said prosecutors were disappointed with the ruling and may appeal.
Yanny had argued at trial that the organization was a club, not a gang, which didn’t tolerate criminal activity. He said the government targeted the group because of its large Mexican-American population.
In November, 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 policeman who was killed as he broke down the door of a Mongols member to serve a search warrant in 2014.
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.