ATLANTA -- Michael Vick blamed family members for taking
advantage of his generosity after a police raid found evidence of dog fighting at property he owns in Virginia.
An animal rights group scoffed at that explanation, saying it's long suspected the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was involved in the fight-to-the-death activity.
Embroiled in another embarrassing -- and perhaps criminal -- situation, Vick traveled to New York on Friday to take part in activities leading up to the NFL draft.
Appearing at a news conference to announce his participation in the NFL Quarterback Challenge, Vick described himself as an unwitting victim of relatives living on his property in Smithfield, Va.
"I'm never at the house," Vick said, according to ajc.com. "I left the house with my family members and my cousin. They just haven't been doing the right thing."
Police conducting a drug investigation raided the Vick-owned house and found dozens of dogs, some injured and emaciated. Investigators also discovered items associated with dog fighting.
Vick claimed he knew nothing about it.
"It's unfortunate I have to take the heat," he said. "If I'm not there, I don't know what's going on. It's a call for me to really tighten down on who I'm trying to take care of. When it all boils down, people will try to take advantage of you and leave you out to dry. Lesson learned for me."
John Goodwin, who handles dog-fighting issues for The Humane Society of America, was skeptical that Vick was unaware of such a large operation -- especially when police were led to the property as part of a drug investigation after arresting the quarterback's 26-year-old cousin, Davon Boddie.
Goodwin said authorities found 66 dogs on the property, mostly pit bulls who appeared to be involved in organized fighting. He estimated it would cost up to $100 a day just to feed that number of animals, not to mention other hefty expenses.
"Who's paying to feed all those dogs?" Goodwin asked. "Who has the money to feed 66 pit bulls that's in some way, shape or form related to that property?"
He said The Humane Society has heard for several years that Vick was personally involved in the brutal, clandestine activity, which is banned nationwide and a felony in 48 states, including Virginia and Georgia. A conviction in Virginia carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
"We get a lot of calls, and people were always kind of kicking his name around," Goodwin said. "But it was always difficult to put together a complete case on the guy. The word is that he has multiple layers of protection. When the search warrant was executed and they found all the things they found, it really came as no surprise."
Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts said the team would not comment until it got more details on the investigation. Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward, did not return a telephone message seeking comment for the second day in a row.
"The search warrant was issued in a matter unrelated to the property owner, Mr. Michael Vick," Surry County Sheriff Harold D. Brown said.
Goodwin, who has worked with authorities on numerous dog-fighting cases, said he was told that officers also found bloody strips of carpeting, commonly used in dog-fighting pits, and "breaking sticks" -- hammer-like devices used to pry open an animal's jaw after a fight.
The NFL said it is looking into the matter. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he intends to crack down on players involved in off-the-field misconduct.
Last season, Vick flashed an obscene hand gesture to heckling Atlanta fans as he walked off the field following a loss. He was fined $10,000 by the NFL and donated another $10,000 to charity.
In January, security officers at Miami International Airport seized a water bottle from Vick that they said smelled of marijuana and had a hidden compartment. Authorities later said there were no drugs in the bottle, and Vick explained that he used the secret compartment to carry jewelry.
Just this week, Vick came under more criticism when he failed to show for a lobbying appearance on Capitol Hill in support of increased funding for after-school programs. He missed a connecting flight in Atlanta through no fault of his own, but didn't turn up for a later flight.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked Falcons owner Arthur Blank to suspend Vick pending the investigation and "to kick him off the team if it is found that dogs on Vick's property were neglected or used for fighting."
Goodwin said The Humane Society would take a similar stand if criminal charges were filed against Vick.
While the quarterback insisted he was not involved in dog fighting, he has shown an interest in breeding pit bulls.
In a 2001 profile by The Sporting News, he revealed having a pit bull that already had produced one litter and said he was trying to start a breeding kennel.
"There's more to me than people might think," he said at the time.