A federal jury on Friday decided an outlaw motorcycle club should be stripped of the trademarks it holds on its coveted logo as punishment in a racketeering case, delivering a victory to the U.S. government in its unusual legal fight to dismantle the notorious organization.
Last month, at the end of a lengthy trial, a jury in Santa Ana convicted the Mongols motorcycle club of racketeering and conspiracy charges, finding the group shared responsibility for several violent acts and drug crimes committed by individual Mongol members.
The verdict allowed prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office to pursue something they had long sought: a court order forcing the Mongols to forfeit trademarks to its logo, the method its leaders have relied on to maintain control over the group’s insignia — a Genghis Khan figure in sunglasses riding a motorcycle beneath the group’s name, spelled out in large block letters.
The jury in the case returned this week to hear a day of testimony and arguments from prosecutors and the Mongols’ defense attorney on the forfeiture issue. The panel had to decide whether the logo was linked closely enough to the crimes for which the Mongols organization had been convicted to warrant forcing the club to forfeit the trademarks to the U.S. government. After two days of deliberating, they decided there was, in fact, a tight nexus between the image and one of the criminal charges the club faced — conspiracy to commit racketeering — said a spokesman for U.S. Atty. Nicola Hanna.
Both sides in the case agreed that the club’s trademarked logo was the cornerstone of the Mongols’ identity. Only members are permitted to wear the insignia on the back of their riding vests. The logo is an unmistakable symbol in the hierarchical world of motorcycle clubs in which full members lord their superiority over plebes and rival clubs often clash violently in turf battles.
The government’s pursuit of the trademarks is a novel legal strategy, based on the idea that without the trademarks Mongol leaders would be deprived not only of the money members pay for patches and other merchandise, but also of the ability to control who wears the potent Mongol image. Experts have been dubious about the plan, however, questioning whether the country’s trademark laws can bestow any meaningful authority on the government to prevent Mongols members from displaying the logo.