LOS ANGELES – Following the arrests of 61 members of the notorious Mongols biker gang on federal racketeering charges Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien stood in front of two dozen gleaming motorcycles that had just been seized from the gang and vowed to go after more than just the Mongols’ means of transportation.
In what he called an unprecedented move, O’Brien said he was seeking to take control of the Mongols’ name, which has been trademarked by the gang and, according to O’Brien, is subject to forfeiture.
“We’re going after their very identity,” O’Brien said.
If the government is successful in its effort, O’Brien said he would seek a restraining order banning the gang’s members from wearing anything with the Mongols name, which is typically accompanied by an insignia of a pony-tailed Genghis Khan-like figure riding a chopper. Anyone caught wearing Mongols apparel could have it seized by police on the spot, he said.
Tuesday’s crackdown, which involved more than 1,000 federal agents and police in six states, capped a three-year undercover investigation in which federal agents infiltrated the gang, authorities said. Federal arrest warrants and search warrants were being served in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio in addition to Southern California.
In addition to racketeering, the Mongols were charged with committing violent crimes – including murder – drug trafficking, weapons offenses and money laundering. They used guns, knives, brass knuckles, lead pipes and steel-toed boots to impose their will, often on rivals such as the Hells Angels but also on unsuspecting members of the public who happened to cross their paths, according to a 177-page indictment.
The indictment – the first three pages of which list 79 gang member defendants with monikers such as “Monster,” “Danger” and “Violent Ed” – is drawn largely from the observations of four undercover ATF agents who penetrated the gang and four current Mongols members who became paid informants for the government. Investigators also relied on wiretapped telephone calls in which Mongols, usually speaking in coded language, discussed the gang’s allegedly criminal operations.
“We believe (the indictment) puts a stake in the heart of the Mongols,” said Michael Sullivan, acting director of the ATF, who joined O’Brien and other law enforcement officials at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles.
On display were the motorcycles, Mongols leather jackets and a clutch of weapons. Authorities also had seized seven pounds of methamphetamines, five Los Angeles Police Department badges and more than $100,000 in cash.
The key to the investigation was the work of the undercover agents who spent several years gaining the Mongols’ trust, officials said. Before being admitted to the gang, they were checked out by a private investigator hired by the Mongols and given polygraph exams.
The Mongols were formed in the 1970s by a small group of Hispanics who had been rejected from the Hells Angels because of their ethnicity, as the story goes. The gang now has between 500 and 600 members, the majority in Southern California, according to law enforcement.
The Mongols fund their organization largely through the sale of methamphetamine, according to the indictment. Undercover agents documented dozens of alleged drug deals ranging in quantity from a few grams to half a kilo. Many of the alleged sales were made to undercover agents or confidential informants cooperating with authorities, the indictment states.