A federal judge in Santa Ana Friday fined the Mongol Nation motorcycle club $500,000 and ordered the seizure of ammunition and weapons found while pursuing a racketeering conviction against the organization, but denied prosecutors’ request to take away the club’s ability to enforce its trademarks.
Federal prosecutors initially wanted U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to force the Mongols to turn over their logos and trademarks to the government, which would control them. But when Carter said in February that he would not issue such an order, they changed tactics to request that he block the club from suing anyone infringing on the trademark. That would essentially make the club’s trademark images, such as the one of a pony-tailed Genghis Khan-type character aboard a motorcycle, part of the public domain.
Federal prosecutors had requested a $1 million fine, but Carter said he did not want to hamper the club’s ability to pay for an appeal, which attorneys involved in the case say is certain to go to the U.S. Supreme Court because it poses novel First Amendment claims.
The morning’s proceedings got off to an unusual start when Carter took up a filing from one of the club’s attorneys that alleged the lead defense counsel in the trial was perpetrating a scheme to make the club look “destitute” so it wouldn’t be able to afford a fine. Carter said he was “perplexed” as to why the club’s general counsel, Stephen Stubbs, did not request a private hearing to sort out the dispute over legal bills.
Stubbs admitted it was a “mistake” on his part. Attorney Joseph A. Yanny, who represented the club in the trial, denied Stubbs’ claims that he was attempting to use his $511,000 “and some change” legal bill to help make the case that the club could not afford to pay a fine a substantial fine.
Carter said it didn’t matter because he saw ample evidence in the probation report that the club could afford the $500,000 fine, as long as it was paid monthly at a $8,475 clip. He added that he didn’t “want to emasculate” the club from affording an appeal.
Stubbs said the club has a fundraiser planned this weekend and another one for June 9 to pay its legal bills. He said the club has raised $960,000 over the years to cover legal costs.
Carter told the attorneys the monthly bill makes the fine affordable, but “also gives you every motivation to get it (the case) up there quickly” on appeal.
Yanny argued that all of the criminal behavior associated with the racketeering conviction in December dated back to 2006 to 2008 when Ruben “Doc” Cavazos ran the club, and he has since been kicked out. He accused prosecutors of “double dipping” in punishing the club since all of the crimes used to justify the racketeering conviction have been adjudicated in various other courts.
“They’re attempting to double dip and penalize men who had nothing to do with the any of these crimes,” Yanny argued. “They’re innocent and should not be punished for things they had nothing to do with.”
Stubbs said “saving the patch, that’s important to everybody” in the club.
Stubbs argued that prosecutors “inflamed” jurors in the case in the way they characterized the club’s culture. He said the Mongols “reject society’s norms,” and believe that if they’re not harming anyone, they should be allowed to do what they want.
“It’s pure libertarianism,” Stubbs said.
He said the club’s trademarks on the patches that are sewn on their leather jackets are “sacred” and compared them to religious symbols and the American flag. He held up his wedding ring as an example.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Brunwin countered that the club has shown “no acceptance of responsibility, no remorse,” and, therefore, deserves a $1 million fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Welk rejected the argument that the sacredness of the Mongols’ patch should be used to block the government’s efforts to stop the club from enforcing its claim on their trademarks. That would “elevate” it above other trademarks, which are subject to satire or other forms of critical speech, he said.
Carter said granting the government’s request would be a “slippery slope” allowing for other attempted seizures of trademarks of organizations deemed unpopular by partisans.
“Can you imagine a political party” going after a National Rifle Association trademark “or a labor union like the Teamsters?” the judge said.
But the government has shown a “nexus” between the guns and ammunition and other items seized in the investigation and the racketeering crimes, so the government can keep those, Carter said.
In the racketeering verdict, the jury found that the club was guilty of dealing cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as one attempted murder and one murder. Jurors deadlocked 10-2 for “not proven” on one attempted murder and “not proven” on two murders. But under the conspiracy conviction, the panel validated multiple incidents of violence, including murders and attempted murders as well as drug dealing.