Dozens of burly, tattoo-covered members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club have been arrested after federal agents made raids in as many as six states from the West Coast to the Midwest –– as part of a three-year undercover operation.
At least 61 members of the Southern California-based gang were arrested under a federal racketeering indictment that included charges of murder, attempted murder, assault, as well as gun and drug violations, said Mike Hoffman, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Mongols are primarily Latino and formed because the Hells Angels refused to allow Hispanic members.
At least 160 search warrants were being served across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio. Several arrests were made in Southern California, where the gang's headquarters are located.
The arrests are part of a three-year multi-agency undercover investigation called Operation Black Rain, in which four ATF agents became fully-inducted members of the gang.
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.
The bust was the biggest takedown of a motorcycle gang, said U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien.
His office was set to ask a judge for an injunction that would seize the Mongols' trademarked name, a first for federal authorities. If the order is approved, any Mongol would no longer be able to wear a jacket or ride a bike with the gang's name.
"It would allow law enforcement to seize the leather jackets right off their back," O'Brien said.
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 undercover women 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."
Among those arrested were the gang's former national president Ruben Cavazos.
Outside Cavazos' home in West Covina, about 18 miles east of Los Angeles, a red, custom-modified Harley-Davidson motorbike sat outside. No occupants were home but 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.
HarperCollins publicist Sarah Burningham in New York City said she only handles book-related issues for Cavazos, but would forward an e-mail from The Associated Press requesting comment.
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, Nev., 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.
At least 22 motorcycles were on display outside the Los Angeles Police Department's main building Tuesday morning. All were modified, chrome-covered Harleys with custom artwork. One had a fiberglass skull on the clutch, another's kick stand had been modified to make it look like bird talons. Several bore Mongols insignia.