OFF THE WIRE
Federal prosecutors requested a ruling Monday that would block members of the notorious Mongols motorcycle gang from wearing or distributing its trademarked logo or using its name.
Prosecutors made the request in district court in Los Angeles, and if U.S. District Judge Otis Wright signs the order, the government would own the logo and the club’s name. This is the first time the U.S. government has sought control of a gang’s identity through a court order.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the insignia — which depicts a pony-tailed man riding a chopper — is “very, very closely identified with the organization,” and that by removing access to the logo, the Mongols would be further prevented from operating.
“This patch is a central element of the identity of the gang. We’re trying to dismantle a criminal organization, and we’re trying to use whatever tools we can to do it,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. “In this case it shows our determination to go after this organization as a whole — top to bottom leadership — and after the proceeds of criminal activity.”
A 2008 racketeering indictment accused Mongols members of murder, drug trafficking and torture. More than 100 people faced charges in state and federal courts, and Mrozek said dozens have been found guilty.
One of those members was former Mongol president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is expected to be sentenced later this year.
While heading the gang, Cavazos registered and trademarked the Mongol logo, Mrozek said. After Cavazos pleaded guilty to the criminal charges he faced, prosecutors realized they could request that the logo be forfeited because the trademark was used while the club was involved in criminal activity.
“The fact that they wanted legal protection gave us both the idea and the avenue to go after the logo,” Mrozek said.
A different judge issued an injunction in late 2008 prohibiting members of the gang from wearing the logo, and Wright issued a preliminary order of forfeiture last year.
Wright reversed his decision in September, however, after the Mongol Nation Motorcycle Club Inc. argued that the trademark and logo were a collective membership mark — meaning it identified a group of people — and therefore could not be owned solely by one person.
George Steele, who is representing the Mongols, said that because one person cannot own a collective membership insignia, it could not be seized from Cavazos.
“It’s legally impossible for one person to own a collective membership mark, so if it’s illegal, they can’t take it,” Steele said.
Prosecutors have since worked to prove that members of the club knew Cavazos was the sole owner of the logo, and said they had prepared evidence showing such. Wright, however, did not hear oral arguments at Monday’s hearing.
Mrozek said Wright could make his decision at any time, even as early as Monday.