Government Goes after Motorcycle Group Logo
Chicago gangster Al Capone famously escaped a prison sentence for his more lethal crimes, but was finally convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in 1931. While tax evasion was not necessarily one of Capone's most heinous crimes, charging and convicting him of the offense was perhaps an easier and more effective legal strategy for taking him off the streets.
As I discussed in my blog on the unexpected use of copyright law to fight revenge porn, the use of novel legal strategies to achieve a singular result is not uncommon these days. Case in point is the attempt by federal prosecutors to go after a biker group called the Mongols by seizing control of the group's trademarked logo.
As the New York Times describes it, this logo is
a drawing of a brawny Genghis Khan-like figure sporting a queue and sunglasses, riding a chopper while brandishing a sword.
Khan was the leader of the Mongol Empire.
Under asset forfeiture law, goods can be seized by the government if they’ve been used to commit crimes.
Prosecutors say that the logo is a “unifying symbol,” and that (if the government wins) police may even be able to stop any member of the group and take the Mongols jacket right off his back.
Only men can be Mongols members. According to Courthouse News, women “may wear a ‘property of’ patch at gang gatherings.”
The Mongols group was founded in California in 1969 by Vietnam War veterans and has about 1,000 members in the US, most of whom are Hispanic.
Members say that Latinos are often discriminated against by members of other motorcycle clubs.
But not all Mongols members are Latino. One early member was former Minnesota governor and retired professional wrestler Jesse Ventura.
Troubles with Law Enforcement
In 2012, a suspected member of the group was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of the head of the San Francisco chapter of Hells Angels, a rival motorcycle group that also has (and enforces) federal trademarks.
In 2014, another member of the Mongols was charged with murdering a police officer.
In 2018, 21 people associated with the Mongols in Tennessee were charged with crimes that included conspiracy, racketeering, kidnapping, murder, and robbery.
A criminal indictment against 79 Mongols members eventually led to 77 guilty pleas.
The Mongols say that their club isn’t a criminal enterprise and that the crimes were committed by rogue former members or in self-defense or the defense of others.
At one point, a federal judge in Los Angeles allowed the seizure of “products, clothing, vehicles, motorcycles, books, posters, merchandise, stationery, or other materials bearing the Mongols trademark” from Mongols and their family members and friends.
The judge later reversed her ruling.
One Mongols member (who had not been charged with a crime) filed suit with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), arguing that the court order allowing confiscation of items with logos violated his First Amendment free speech rights.
He won and was awarded $252,000 in legal fees.
As NBC reported, an attorney for the Mongols in the trademark case said that his client
is a victim of a "deep state" conspiracy by law enforcement to "persecute, not prosecute" the organization to fetch more taxpayer dollars for police.