For more than two decades, federal law enforcement authorities pursued the Mongols, a notorious motorcycle club whose members had a long history of murder, assault, drug dealing and robbery.
In 2018, the government scored a victory of sorts. Prosecutors convinced a jury in California that these crimes were not just the result of individual bikers behaving badly, but the work of an organized criminal enterprise that had participated in a campaign of mayhem. The club was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine in what prosecutors hoped would be a down payment on putting it out of business.
But the group that was once the most powerful biker organization in the West other than its archrivals, the Hells Angels, is returning to court next week, hoping to set aside the racketeering and conspiracy convictions based on what it says is new evidence about its previous leader, David Santillan. The Mongols are now claiming that throughout their attempt to defend the club in the long-running criminal case, their own leader was secretly talking to the government.
A petition for a new trial and reversal of the half-million-dollar fine, which is scheduled for an initial hearing on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., claims that Mr. Santillan, 52, covertly cooperated for years with a special agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In exchange, the club said in its motion, the agent appears to have spared Mr. Santillan from serious legal consequences for several offenses since 2011.
rejected the verdict as an infringement on the club’s constitutional rights.
That quest to seize the Mongols’ patch was part of a criminal case brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2013 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The indictment did not target any individuals but alleged that the club itself had engaged in an organized conspiracy of crimes such as murder, attempted murder and drug dealing. That is the conviction and fine the Mongols are now trying to have set aside.
“In my opinion, the only reason the government brought this RICO case was to take another run at the patch, having failed each time in the past,” said George L. Steele, a lawyer for the Mongols who is handling a separate appeal in the case. Federal prosecutors have been focusing on the Mongols’ logo since 2008.
The government, in its own appeal, is making another run at the Mongols’ logo, renewing an earlier request for a narrower forfeiture order that would take away the club’s right to trademark exclusivity over the emblem. Such an order would allow anyone to use the image.
The lawyer in charge of the retrial motion, Joseph A. Yanny, said the Mongols hoped to prove that an improper relationship between Mr. Santillan and Mr. Ciccone during the 2018 trial allowed the government to hear things it should not have about the Mongols’ defense strategy — and even adversely influenced the Mongols’ presentation of their case.