A federal judge has rejected an unprecedented bid by the U.S. government to seek control of a gang's name and its identity _ via its logo _ through a court order in a case involving the notorious Mongols motorcycle club.
In an eight-page ruling filed Tuesday but made public Thursday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright said he must "regrettably" rule in favor of the Mongols because the gang itself was not named in a 2008 racketeering indictment and it maintained exclusive ownership of the trademarks.
Wright granted the biker gang's petition and vacated a preliminary order of forfeiture he signed last year. Prosecutors, for the first time ever, had sought to take control of the Mongol name and the insignia that shows a ponytailed Genghis Khan-like figure aboard a chopper.
If Wright had signed the prosecution's proposed order, the government would be the owner of the logo and the club's name.
"I guess it was their belief that somehow it would make a difference to the organization, causing it to cease to exist," said George Steele, an attorney who represented the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. "It's heartening to know the law does what it's supposed to do and protect you from those who try to seize your property and your liberty."
U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said his office will review the ruling and consider all options, including an appeal.
Prosecutors argued the logo should be forfeited because the trademarks were acquired and maintained by former Mongol president Ruben "Doc" Cavazos while the club was involved in criminal activity. Cavazos has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is expected to be sentenced later this year.
Steele countered that a person cannot own a collective membership insignia, and Wright seemed to agree in his ruling.
"There is no evidence that Cavazos or any other individual member of the organization holds or ever held an ownership interest in the (trade)marks in question," Wright wrote. The law "does not impose liability on the (racketeering) enterprise if it is not named as a `person.'"
The effort was part of the indictment that accused gang members of murder, drug trafficking and torture. More than 100 people faced charges in state and federal courts, and dozens have pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from drug possession to conspiracy.
Another judge issued an injunction in late 2008 barring Mongol members from wearing the logo. The move led to numerous seizures across the nation of Mongol-related gear. Wright last year entered a preliminary order of forfeiture, but he found in favor of the club in September, ruling that none of the defendants had a forfeitable ownership interest in the logo, and vacated his order.
Prosecutors had more evidence to show Wright that Mongol members knew Cavazos was the sole owner of the logo, including a deposition in April where the former gang leader claimed the insignia was his property.
"They were in my personal control to begin (with)," Cavazos said. "Mongol Nation is mine."
The club's website displays the logo on its home page and promises to have an online store with its black-and-white apparel soon.