Is A Biker Gang A "Person"?
Mongol Nation is an unincorporated association whose members include the official, or "full-patch," members of the gang. The U.S. government has been prosecuting the gang since at least 2008 and has obtained convictions of more than 70 individual members under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq. and various other criminal statutes. Then, the government indicted Mongol Nation (the unincorporated association) on charges of substantive RICO and RICO conspiracy violations. Mongol Nation was convicted following a jury trial.
On appeal, Mongol Nation sought refuge in California's Unincorporated Association law, Cal. Corp. Code § 18000 et seq. Essentially, Mongol Nation argued that the government indicted the gang as a "person" that exists exclusively for unlawful purposes. Under California law, however, unincorporated associations, like Mongol Nation, can own property, but only if the association exists for a "lawful purpose," Cal. Corp. Code §§ 18035(a) & 18105. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was not sympathetic:
Mongol Nation proceeds from a faulty premise. It contends that it cannot qualify as a RICO person because the indictment alleges that the association was organized for unlawful purposes only. Regardless of the merits of this argument—a matter about which we express no view—it mischaracterizes the allegations in the indictment concerning the association's purpose. The indictment alleges that "[t]he purposes of the Mongols Gang . . . included, but were not limited to," several unlawful purposes. Because the indictment expressly contemplated that the association may exist for other purposes—perhaps including lawful ones—it is not facially inconsistent with Mongol Nation's interpretation of the definition of "person" in the RICO statute, even if we assume that interpretation is correct.
U.S. v. Mongol Nation, 56 F.4th 1244, 1252 (2023).
For more on California's Unincorporated Association law, see
Judge Orrick Rules A Decentralized Autonomous Organization May Be Sued As An Unincorporated Association
Unincorporated Association Governance - Waiting For The Legislature
Federal Court Allows Reverse Veil Piercing Of Unincorporated Association
Court Rules An LLC To Be An Unincorporated Association, But Is That Correct?