An undercover investigation that put federal agents inside the notorious Mongols motorcycle gang ended Tuesday with arrests of dozens of members on warrants ranging from drug sales to murder and a move by the government to seize the group's name.
Law enforcement agents said the operation could herald the end of the Mongol Motorcycle Club, a Southern California-based group of 600 or so members that claims to be a social club but that prosecutors say is a criminal gang involved in murder, torture, drug trafficking and other offenses.
"This is one of those celebrated investigations in which the organization from top to bottom has been charged and targeted," said Michael Sullivan, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "It puts a stake in the heart of the Mongols."
At least 61 members were arrested under a racketeering indictment. Agents served 110 arrest warrants across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio.
The 177-page indictment describes a tightly organized group routinely engaging in violence. It alleges the group, which is mostly Latino, sometimes attacks black people and commits robberies, steals motorcycles, and funds itself in part by stealing credit card account information.
In one instance, several Mongol members allegedly rode in a pack and attacked motorists near Palm Springs, surrounding cars while one rider tried to stab the drivers with a knife.
One member was allowed to tattoo the gang's insignia on his head after he shot two members of a rival gang, the indictment alleges. Mongols were also allegedly encouraged to engage in sex with women at "wing parties," earning patches for various acts. Among them, Mongols allegedly could earn their "wings" by engaging in sex with women with a venereal disease.
Agents seized dozens of chrome-covered Harley-Davidson motorcycles. One machine's oil dipstick doubled as a serrated knife.
Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien also asked for an injunction that would seize the Mongols' trademarked name. If the order is approved, any Mongol would no longer be able to wear a jacket displaying the gang's name or emblem.
"It would allow law enforcement to seize the leather jackets right off their back," O'Brien said.
John Torres, the ATF agent in charge in Los Angeles, described the pivotal role his organization's four undercover agents played in the investigation.
The unidentified agents infiltrated the gang and were accepted as full members, a difficult process that requires winning the trust of top leaders over a period of months, Torres said.
They had been given completely new identities, including Social Security numbers and life stories. To be accepted into the Mongols, the agents had to pass a lie detector test and background test carried out by private detectives.
Torres declined to comment on how they were able to pass the polygraph test. The agents started out as "prospects" and, after carrying out errands for the gang, including security work at Mongol parties, became "full-patch" members, meaning they could wear the group's insignia.
The agents were required to live away from their real families for days on end in homes set up to make it look like they lived a Mongols lifestyle, Torres said. Four undercover women ATF agents also were involved, pretending to be biker girlfriends and attending parties with the agents. Women are not allowed to be 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," ATF spokesman Mike Hoffman said. "Someone might get suspicious."
Torres said the agents never committed any crimes during their work.
Among those arrested were the gang's former national president Ruben Cavazos, who authored a memoir of his life called "Honor Few, Fear None: The Life and Times of a Mongol," published by HarperCollins in June.
Cavazos is currently employed as the night shift CAT scan technician at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Adelaida De La Cerda said.
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 in Laughlin, Nevada, in 2002. "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.
"I always said he was robbing from the club," Pinney said. "He was throwing all the good members out and bringing gang members in. He was trying to be a drug lord or something. He was crazy."
Pinney doesn't believe the raid will force the Mongols off the road.
"This is all going to blow over. The Mongols aren't going away, and neither are the Hells Angels," he said.
Five Mongols members were sentenced this year to Nevada state prison and two got probation for their roles in a deadly casino brawl with rival Hells Angels during a 2002 motorcycle rally in the Colorado River resort town of Laughlin. Three people died in the fight.
Las Vegas police reported serving several warrants at homes in southern Nevada, where five men were arrested and were being held in federal custody pending an initial appearance before a federal magistrate, said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas.