A jury in California, in a first-of-its-kind verdict, agreed that federal prosecutors could strip a trademarked logo from a Los Angeles-based motorcycle club known as the Mongols as punishment for its members' criminal activity.
Last month the same jury had convicted the Mongol Nation, the leadership group that owns the logo, of racketeering and criminal conspiracy related to drug dealing and violent crimes by individual members. Federal prosecutors have long considered the Mongols to be a criminal gang.
The logo is an image of a Genghis Khan-like figure wearing sunglasses riding a motorcycle, below the club name. It is displayed on jackets, patches and shirts worn only by members, along with other paraphernalia the club considers central to its identity.
The government agrees on the power of the logo. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Welk argued that Mongols were "empowered by these symbols that they wear like armor."
In a hearing earlier this week, an attorney for the Mongols, Joe Yanny, said the government was overreaching by trying to strip the club of its trademarked logo. Yanny called it "the death penalty" for the Mongols.
The attorney also argued that the Mongols had expelled wrong-doers from its ranks and that the government targeted the group because its membership is largely Mexican-American.
The Mongols were founded in the 1970's by a group of Latino men who were allegedly rejected by the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.
The club, which has a long history of violent rivalries with the Hell's Angels and other bike clubs, has seen scores of its members convicted on drug charges and assaults, including 80 in 2008.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the jury's verdict isn't the last word, as the club will likely appeal.
"And both sides acknowledged in court filings that constitutional challenges to the jury's decision were almost certain to be made over whether a court order forcing Mongols members not to wear the logo would violate their 1st Amendment right to free speech."