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Judge fines Mongols motorcycle club $500,000, but group retains trademark

The attorney for the Mongols motorcycle club called the decision on the trademark a victory and said the government was trying to limit speech.
Motorcycles seized from the Mongols Motorcycle gang is on display during a press conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, 2008.
Motorcycles seized from the Mongols motorcycle gang are on display during a press conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, 2008.Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images file

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge on Friday fined the Mongols Motorcycle Club $500,000 following its conviction in a racketeering case, but declined to strip the group of its trademark protected logos, said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter in February had said he would not strip the Mongols of its trademarked logo, citing constitutional protections against intrusions on free speech and excessive fines.

A jury convicted the Mongol Nation in December of racketeering in a case in which prosecutors said the group also operated an organized criminal enterprise involved in murder, attempted murder and drug distribution. The jury decided that the Mongols could be stripped of its logo, which Carter in February declined to approve.

Stephen Stubbs, lead attorney for the Mongols, called the judge’s decision to not strip its trademarked logo a victory, but said that the $500,000 would be a "major burden" for the group. He said the group plans to appeal the entire case.

"The Mongols Motorcycle Club is very pleased that Judge Carter shut down another attempt by the government to limit symbolic speech," Stubbs, of Las Vegas, said in a phone interview Friday evening.

He said that while the Mongols respect Carter and his decision, the organization "does not agree it's fair in any way, as the current members who had nothing to do with any of the alleged behavior are going to be the ones to bear the burden of paying the fine."

Federal prosecutors have been trying for more than a decade to get at the Mongols' trademarked logo, which they say forms the core of the identity of what they have called a motorcycle gang.

After Carter said in February he would not strip the Mongols of its trademarked logo, prosecutors tried again, asking that the group be prohibited from preventing others from using it, which Stubbs said the judge also denied.

"If you have a trademark and you can't enforce it, you really don't have a trademark," Stubbs said, saying that had the judge granted the request others who are not in the club could sell patches and wear them, and there would be nothing the Mongols could do about it.

At trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Brunwin told jurors about the killing of a Hells Angels leader in San Francisco, a Nevada brawl in 2002 that left members of both clubs dead, and the death of a Pomona policeman who was killed as he broke down the door of a Mongols member to serve a search warrant in 2014, the Associated Press has reported.

Stubbs disputed the characterization that the Mongols are a motorcycle gang, saying "this is not a motorcycle gang — in fact, that's offensive to people in the motorcycle culture." He said everyone involved in the alleged illegal activity upon which the case was based were "excommunicated" from the club a decade ago before the group was aware of an undercover investigation.

Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives infiltrated the Mongols and won racketeering convictions of 77 members in 2008, the AP has reported.

Prosecutors have said in court documents that the Mongols are a nationwide organization, but approximately 400 of its 500 to 600 members are believed to be located in Southern California.

Stubbs said that if the Mongols must pay the $500,000 fine the Mongols would find a way to pay it. He said Carter approved monthly payments of $8,475 for five years.

"This will be a heavy burden, but the Mongols Motorcycle Club is not going anywhere," Stubbs said.