Notorious Mongols Motorcycle Club fighting U.S. government to keep its vest patch

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A federal racketeering trial against the notorious Mongols Motorcycle Club began Wednesday in a Santa Ana courthouse, with prosecutors accusing the Southern California-based organization of supporting drug trafficking and encouraging vicious assaults and even murder.

Unlike past racketeering trials that targeted named members of the outlaw motorcycle gang, the current trial specifically targets the Mongol Nation, as prosecutors seek to gain legal control over the organization’s trademark name, which adorns some of the patches members wear on their vests.

If successful, federal prosecutors have previously indicated, the move would allow law enforcement to stop Mongol members and literally take the jacket off of their backs anywhere in the United States.

It’s an apparent attempt to destroy the Mongols club, or at least greatly weaken it.

Patches with the club name can include a smiling man with sun glasses, a long mustache and a pony tail coming from the top of his bald head.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Brunwin described the Mongols as a “criminal organization” that “encourages, supports and rewards its members for committing crimes.” The prosecutor told jurors during opening statements that the Mongol’s claim that “we are who everybody fears, we are who everybody thinks we are, you need to hide your daughters from us. …

“They expect you to fear them, to be intimidated, to be afraid,” Brunwin said. “They do not follow the law, they do not respect their victims.”

Key to the government’s case against the Mongols will be testimony from four undercover U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives officers who infiltrated the motorcycle club, as well as informants they cultivated within the organization. Prosecutors say the case stemmed from Operation Black Rain, a multi-agency effort that led to 77 guilty pleas of members of the Mongols, an organization that began in Montebello in the 1970s, and is now based in West Covina.

In accusing the Mongols of celebrating violence, prosecutors pointed to a number of high-profile incidents involving the club battling with rival members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, including the so-called 2002 River Run Riot in Laughlin, Nev. that left three bikers dead, and a 2002 melee at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon near Palm Springs.

Prosecutors also noted violent attacks they say involved Mongols, some of which included deaths, at bars or restaurants in Hollywood, Pasadena, Merced, La Mirada and Wilmington. The most recent incident, according to Brunwin, was a March confrontation in Riverside in which a Mongol member pointed a gun at a man and “made him dance.”

“They swarm, they stab, they shoot,” Brunwin said. “It is not a fair fight. For many of the victims, they probably never saw it coming.”

The club is also accuse of being involved in the trafficking of methamphetamine and cocaine, with prosecutors saying some of the drug transactions were captured on video.

Attorney Joseph Yanny, who is representing the motorcycle club, described the case as “an absurdity.” The defense attorney told jurors that individuals involved in the violent incidents cited by prosecutors were either acting in self-defense or are no longer involved in the club.

“You just heard the greatest piece of fiction delivered on Halloween,” Yanny told jurors of the government’s allegations. “Are we going to stand up here to tell you that members of this club have never committed crimes? Of course they have, but they have been kicked out.”

Yanny told jurors of the club’s creation by Vietnam veterans returning to the United States, and of an often-violent war with the Hells Angels dating back to the late 1970s. Among those expected to testify in the trial is Jesse Ventura, the former pro wrestler and Minnesota governor who was an early member of the Mongols.

Yanny accused government investigators of inducing and entrapping “down-on-their-luck” members of the club into drug deals, and of fostering through undercover agents the violence between motorcycle clubs. The defense attorney said investigators wanted “blood on the floor” in order to justify their budgets and “sell their books when they retire,” and described the case as “the deep state meeting main street.”

Among those in the courtroom for the start of the trial were David Santillan, the current present of the Mongols, and around a half-dozen members of the motorcycle club, who quietly watched the proceedings.

Santillan took over the club following the conviction of its previous president, Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, for racketeering charges tied to the Operation Black Rain investigation.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

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Sean Emery
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