A racketeering trial began in Santa Ana, California, last week — opening arguments were Wednesday — in which prosecutors accused the Mongol MC Nation of operating as an organized criminal enterprise involved in unspeakable offenses against humanity.
If prosecutors are successful they will force the organization to forfeit "any and all marks" that include the organization's logo — the word "Mongols" and a drawing of a Genghis Khan-styled rider on a chopper styled motorcycle. In 2005 the Mongols MC Nation became vulnerable to this legal line of attack when they registered their name and image as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Unknown to the club at the time, four undercover agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had infiltrated their MC.
In 2008 the U.S. Attorney's Office for California's Central District and then-U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien issued between 79 and 110 arrest warrants in four states, accusing the club members of a myriad of crimes. And Thomas O’Brein went a step further and formally sought to take possession of the club's trademarked name and logo. This was an unusual and novel legal tactic using trademark law to strike at the heart of what prosecutors called a notorious outlaw motorcycle group, and federal civil asset forfeiture laws to take their colors. Civil asset forfeiture laws empower the government to seize assets from convicted criminals.
O’Brein said at the time, “If the court grants our request ... then if any law enforcement officer sees a Mongol wearing his patch, he will be authorized to stop that biker and literally take the jacket right off his back," according to a McClatchy report.
"It not just stripping them of their identity, or robbing them of a recruiting tool, it's taking the star off their helmet," said a law enforcement source in Los Angeles. "The logo itself furthers a criminal enterprise."
Prosecutors eventually won convictions against all but two of the club’s indicted members and as part of a plea deal, the club forfeited rights to the Mongols MC Nation’s trademarks to the Department of Justice, Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that, upon presentation of the court's order by police, "defendants and all their agents, servants, employees, family members, and other persons in active participation with the MC, must surrender all products, clothing, vehicles, motorcycles, books, posters, merchandise, stationery, or other materials bearing the Mongols trademark."
At the time, only Uncle Sam was legally entitled to wear the Mongols' colors, or leather vest -- known as a "cut" which is a sleeveless jean jacket worn as a vest. Later another judge partially lifted that injunction a few years later, and the initial trademark forfeiture effort was eventually rejected. The court found that the government couldn’t seize the MC's name and insignia just because some members had been convicted of crimes, because the club, itself, hadn't been charged with criminal conduct. The Justice Department was ordered to pay $253,206 in lawyer’s fees to the attorneys who challenged the charges and the Mongols MC Nation was handed a major victory. But in an attempt to sidestep that argument and confiscate the logo, federal prosecutors in 2013 then indicted the entire Mongols MC Nation, charging the club with a racketeering conspiracy.