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US v. Joshua N. Bowser.  Appeal of:  Bradley W. Carlson.  No. 15-2258.       This appeal involves the government’s efforts to seize personal property bearing the insignia of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (the “Outlaws”), and the effort of a representative of the Outlaws to intervene to prevent those forfeitures. The forfeiture actions stemmed from criminal cases brought against a number of Outlaws members, including all members of the Indianapolis chapter of the Outlaws.

The indictment included a notice of the government’s intent to forfeit any and all property affording the RICO defendants with a source of influence over the enterprise and all property obtained, directly or indirectly, from racketeering activity.    On July 11, 2012, in connection with the arrests of the Outlaws members, the FBI executed search warrants on the Outlaws’ clubhouses in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Outlaws’ bunkhouse in Indianapolis, and several individual residences.

Pursuant to those searches, the FBI seized numerous items bearing the insignia of the Outlaws. That property included, but was not limited to: vests, patches, shirts, hats, belt buckles, signs, mirrors, flags, calendars, books, and pictures. The Outlaws used the symbols on the clothing to conspicuously display their presence and to deter other groups from infringing on their territory.

The items included the symbol of the Outlaws which was a skull and crossed pistons, and patches with slogans such as “God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t” and “Snitches Are a Dying Breed” which communicated a threat to those who would seek to oppose the Outlaws.

In the process of finalizing forfeiture with the  Outlaws defendants, the court received a letter from Bradley W. Carlson which it interpreted as a motion to intervene in the criminal forfeiture actions. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1963(l)(2), “[a]ny person, other than the defendant, asserting a legal interest in property which has been ordered forfeited to the United States . . . may . . . petition the court for a hearing to adjudicate the validity of his alleged interest in the property.”

In order to pursue such relief, a petitioner’s right to the property must have vested in petitioner rather than the defendant or be superior to any right, title or interest of the defendant at the time of the commission of the criminal acts, or the petitioner must be a bona fide purchaser of the property. 18 U.S.C. § 1963(l)(6). 

Carlson contended that he had a property interest in all of the Outlaws paraphernalia and that the government had failed to provide him with direct notice of the forfeiture actions as set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1963(l)(1) and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.2(b)(6)(A).

Carlson asserts that he was entitled to direct written notice of the order because he maintains that all patches and registered collective marks of the Outlaws are owned solely by the collective membership of the Outlaws, not by any individual members.

We hold that it is not enough that Carlson merely assert that the Outlaws members understand that Outlaws insignia can only be possessed and exhibited by Outlaws members, or even to assert their “agreement” that the items are owned by the collective membership not the individuals. Such an approach is inconsistent with the law, and understandably so, as persons engaged in a criminal enterprise could simply agree among themselves that all personal and real property in their possession is actually owned by their law-abiding grandmother down the block, and the grandmother could contest the forfeiture of such property without any other allegation of a legal interest in the property.

In short, Carlson has failed to identify the origin of the forfeited items or allege the Outlaws relationship at its inception, and the district court properly held that Carlson was not entitled to individualized notice.

The decision of the district court is AFFIRMED.

By Chicago Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Michael J. Petro