Dozens of burly, tattoo-covered Mongol motorcycle gang members were arrested Tuesday by federal agents in six states from the West Coast to the Midwest on warrants ranging from drug sales to murder after a three-year undercover investigation in which four agents successfully infiltrated the group.
More than 60 members of the Southern California-based Mongol Motorcycle Club were arrested under a federal racketeering indictment that included charges of murder, attempted murder and assault, as well as gun and drug violations, said Mike Hoffman, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Federal and local agents had 110 federal arrest warrants and 160 search warrants that were being served across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio in a sweep dubbed Operation Black Rain.
During some arrests, sharpshooters stood guard on surrounding rooftops and motorcycles were lined up and confiscated.
"It's going to be a large hit to their organization. We are arresting many of their top members," Hoffman said.
Among those arrested were the gang's former national president Ruben Cavazos.
Hoffman said the Mongols had been recruiting members of Los Angeles street gangs to assist in their operations. The Mongols are primarily Latino and formed because the Hells Angels refused to allow Hispanic members.
Four ATF agents infiltrated the gang and were accepted as full members, a difficult process that requires winning the trust of the gang's top leaders over a period of months, Hoffman said.
The agents were required to live away from their families in homes set up to make it look like they lived a Mongols lifestyle, Hoffman said. Four female undercover ATF agents also were involved in the operation, pretending to be biker girlfriends and attending parties with the agents. Women are not allowed to become full members of the gang.
"If you go to a party all the time and you don't ever bring a girl around, it's kind of weird," Hoffman said. "Someone might get suspicious."
To be accepted in the gang, the ATF agents had to run errands and were subject to a background check by private detectives.
The undercover agents observed a changing dynamic within the Mongols. As the gang recruited more Los Angeles street gang members — many of whom didn't have motorcycles and came from Latino gangs The Avenues and 18th Street — tensions grew.
The new members remained loyal to the powerful Mexican Mafia gang, which operates within the state's prison system, Hoffman said.
"That caused kind of a friction between the other guys with bikes," Hoffman said. "It's supposed to be a motorcycle club, and they were just gangster thugs involved in the narcotics trafficking."
'Cleaning up their act'
Outside Cavazos' home in West Covina, about 18 miles east of Los Angeles, a red, custom-modified Harley-Davidson motorbike sat outside. Several police and ATF agents were seen going through items in the house.
Cavazos authored a memoir of his life called "Honor Few, Fear None: The Life and Times of a Mongol," published by HarperCollins in June.
Another former Mongols national president, Roger Pinney, alleged in an interview with The Associated Press that Cavazos was the problem, not the club in general.
"They were just on the verge of cleaning up their act," said Pinney, who is no longer a member and is serving probation from his role in an infamous brawl at Laughlin, Nev., in 2002 in which three people died. "It's not a club-run deal. It's individuals who are the ones who decide to commit crimes."
Pinney said he warned other club members that Cavazos was trouble.
"He was throwing all the good members out and bringing gang members in," Pinney said. "He was trying to be a drug lord or something."
Pinney doesn't believe the raid will force the Mongols off the road. "The Mongols aren't going away, and neither are the Hells Angels," he said.