LOS ANGELES — An undercover investigation in which federal agents infiltrated the notorious Mongols motorcycle gang has ended with dozens of members arrested in six states and prosecutors say it could herald the end of what they call a criminal group.
"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 Mongol Motorcycle Club members were arrested under a racketeering indictment. Agents served 110 arrest warrants across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio.
Members of the Mongols, a Southern California-based group of 600 or so members, claims it is a social club but prosecutors say it's a criminal gang involved in murder, torture, drug trafficking and other offenses.
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.
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 federal 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 doing errands for the gang, including security work at Mongol parties, and later 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.
Torres said the agents never committed any crimes during their work.
Among those arrested were the gang's former national president Ruben Cavazos, who wrote a memoir of his life called "Honor Few, Fear None: The Life and Times of a Mongol," published by HarperCollins in June.
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 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.
But U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien has 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.