Federal Charges Target Mongols Motorcycle Gang

A three-year undercover federal investigation from Oregon to Colorado results in the arrest of more than 60 members of the Mongols biker gang. The charges range from murder to money laundering and racketeering.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. A motorcycle gang that's allegedly into everything from money laundering to murder has been hit hard by federal authorities. The Mongols were the target of an undercover investigation. Yesterday, as nearly 80 gang members were hauled off to jail, the Feds were also promising to strip away the Mongols' name. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports from Los Angeles.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: For three years, undercover agents infiltrated the Mongols, a motorcycle gang that reportedly spread from Los Angeles through the West and even into Europe. That led to yesterday's arrest and indictment in six states, says Michael Sullivan, who heads the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Mr. MICHAEL SULLIVAN (Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms): This indictment does much more than simply disrupt a violent criminal organization. We believe it puts a stake in the heart of the Mongols.

DEL BARCO: Sullivan announced the takedown outside of LA's police headquarters, where on display were scores of confiscated weapons, leather jackets with the Mongols patch, and dozens of shiny, souped-up motorcycles.

(Soundbite of motorcycle machine)

DEL BARCO: The Mongols Motorcycle Club has been around for 30 years, born in Montebello, an east L.A. community. Legend has it that they formed after the Hell's Angels wouldn't have them because they were Latino. ATF agent John Torres says in recent years, the Mongols have been recruiting Latino street gang members to help them in their crimes.

Mr. JOHN TORRES (Agent, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms): Once they got that Mongol patch, it was almost like a license to be more violent than they already were.

Mr. BILLY QUEEN (Agent, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms): In the state of California, the Mongols run the outlaw motorcycle gang world. They pride themselves with being the most violent around - everything from just street beatdowns to murder.

DEL BARCO: Former ATF agent Billy Queen went undercover with the Mongols for two years, resulting in many arrests. He went on to write a best-selling memoir about his experience. Queen says he wore a long goatee, drove a Harley-Davidson they stole for him, and had to earn his Mongol patch by proving himself.

Mr. QUEEN: Whatever they wanted me to do, if it was stand by and assist in stealing motorcycles or hauling the drugs for them, whatever it was that came up, I did. I had my own little line in the sand, and that was rape and murder. I certainly wouldn't - gonna assault people to the point where they would be hurt really bad.

DEL BARCO: Queen says he was lucky that the guy the Mongols asked him to kill never showed up.

Mr. QUEEN: You know, they drank and they partied. And if you got in their way, they'd just beat you down. They want to be king of the mountain, baddest dudes out there rolling.

DEL BARCO: So as a former Mongol, Queen says he can appreciate and admire the three-year undercover operation the ATF's agent played in this recent sweep dubbed Operation Black Rain.

Mr. QUEEN: These guys and girls worked behind enemy lines for three years with people that would murder them if they found out who they were.

DEL BARCO: That's part of the reason Queen is still hiding from the Mongols today. US attorney Tom O'Brian says he hopes to put the Mongols out of business by seizing the name they had trademarked.

Mr. TOM O'BRIAN (U.S. Attorney): That if any local law enforcement officer sees a Mongol wearing his patch, that officer will be authorized to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket off his back.

DEL BARCO: Billy Queen says that will put a huge dent in the Mongols' organization. After all, he says, the Mongols and the Hell's Angels were at war for year over the right to wear a California rocker patch on their leather jackets.

Mr. QUEEN: They killed each other, bombed each other, beat each other for 17 years over that. So it's a very important thing to them. They literally will die for that piece of clothing, that jacket. For those colors, they will literally die for that.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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