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Federal jury rules government can seize Mongols motorcycle club’s trademark

In a closely watched case with possibly far-reaching legal implications, a federal jury decided Friday that the notorious Mongols motorcycle club must forfeit the logos worn by its members, finding in favor of prosecutors’ novel claim that there is a direct link between the club’s crimes and its well-known, trademarked insignia.
The jury’s verdict Friday marked the end of the second phase of a trial, one that focused on forfeiture of assets. Last month, they jury found the club, which was established in Montebello in the 1970s,  guilty of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
The trial next moves to a third phase, in which U.S. District Judge David O. Carter will decide how the forfeiture is carried out. The judge previously has said the issues in the novel case likely will wind up being decided by a higher court.
“You’re both setting yourselves up for an appeal that will go to the Ninth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Carter told the attorneys last month.
Friday’s verdict came after days of courtroom discussion about the group’s trademarks and distinctive logos notably worn on Mongols’ member leather vests. The logos depict a man with muscular arms and a ponytail who is riding a motorcycle
Prosecutors said that the verdict will result in the forfeiture of the Mongol’s legal interests in the word “Mongols,” the gang’s center patch that depicts the motorcycle rider, and combination of the two patches often seen on the Mongols’ leather vests.
The verdict, which prosecutors said was the first of its kind in the nation, also ordered the forfeiture of scores of items bearing the Mongols name and logo that were seized during a lengthy investigation into the gang. Prosecutors in closing arguments said members of the Mongols were “empowered by these symbols that they wear like armor.”
“The Mongols are a notorious criminal organization whose members regularly engage in violent acts against law enforcement officers, rival gangs and members of the public,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna  “The verdicts in this case brand the Mongols as a racketeering enterprise and direct the forfeiture of property used by the gang for decades to encourage and reward numerous acts of murder, assault and drug trafficking.”
The verdict was met with exasperation by Mongols lawyer Stephen Stubbs.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “The American government wants to ban people from wearing a symbol. Really?”
In the earlier racketeering verdict, jurors found that the club was guilty of dealing cocaine and methamphetamine as well as one attempted murder and a murder. The jurors deadlocked on other charges.
But under the conspiracy conviction, the jurors validated multiple alleged incidents of violence, including murders and attempted murders as well as drug dealing.
During the five-week first phase of the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Welk argued that the patches Mongols wear on their leather jackets are meant to be “messages and signals” to rival gang members and even the general public that Mongols should be feared. Welk noted that Mongols are instructed to not wear their leather jackets with patches in a car, and when they drive a car they are taught to fold them in a way to conceal their affiliation with the club from police.
One unique element of the case is that the defendant in the trial is the motorcycle club itself, not any specific members. If federal prosecutors successfully take control of the club’s trademark, it would set a precedent that could be used against other criminal organizations.
The club’s attorney argued that “bad apples” in the club who committed crimes or engaged in illegal behavior are gone and the entire group shouldn’t be villainized for the actions of few. That argument was echoed during a testimony from former Minnesota governor and retired professional wrestler Jesse Ventura , who joined the Mongols in 1973, while in the U.S. Navy.
City News Service contributed to this report

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