LOS ANGELES - Dozens of burly, tattoo-covered members of the Mongol motorcycle gang were arrested Tuesday in six states after a three-year investigation in which undercover agents infiltrated the notorious group.
Law enforcement agents said the arrests 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."
More than 60 people were arrested under a federal racketeering indictment that included charges of murder, attempted murder, assault, as well as gun and drug violations, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Mike Hoffman.
During some arrests, sharpshooters stood guard on surrounding rooftops as 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.
U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said he believed it to be the highest number of arrests of a motorcycle gang in the nation's history.
His staff planned to ask a judge for an injunction to seize the Mongols' trademarked name, a first for federal authorities. If the order is approved, no member would be able to wear a jacket or ride a bike bearing the gang's name.
"It would allow law enforcement to seize the leather jackets right off their back," O'Brien said.
Federal and local agents had 110 federal arrest warrants and 160 search warrants that were being served across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio. The sweep, dubbed Operation Black Rain, was to continue throughout the day Tuesday, agents said.
Among those arrested were the gang's former national president, Ruben Cavazos.
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 Hispanics.
The indictment describes a tightly organized group that routinely engages in violence and sometimes attacks black people. It commits robberies, steals motorcycles, and funds itself in part by stealing credit card account information, the indictment said.
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 pretended to be biker girlfriends and attended 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.
John Torres, the ATF agent in charge in Los Angeles, said the agents never committed any crimes during their undercover work.
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 wrote a memoir titled "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.
Cavazos is 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 at Laughlin, Nev., in 2002 in which three people died. "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.
"He was throwing all the good members out and bringing gang members in," Pinney said. "He was trying to be a drug lord or something."
Pinney doesn't believe the raid will force the Mongols off the road. "The Mongols aren't going away, and neither are the Hells Angels," he said.