Vick indictment seen unlikely in feds' dogfight probe

Updated: July 17, 2007, 11:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SURRY, Va. -- Federal authorities have filed court documents outlining an alleged dogfighting operation at a property owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, The Associated Press reported Friday.

Vick is not named in the documents.

Additionally, Vick is unlikely to be indicted in the dogfighting federal investigation, according to information gathered by the NFL and Atlanta Falcons, sources tell ESPN's Chris Mortensen. The authorities have told the Falcons and league that there has not been any evidence that can be tied to Vick with the alleged dogfighting ring, the sources said.

The law enforcement authorities have privately told league and team officials that at least three people are expected to be indicted but the identities of those individuals were unknown.

The documents filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond and obtained Friday by The Associated Press contain the address of the home that has been the center of the investigation. The filing comes on a day when federal agents searched Vick's property for a second time, using a backhoe to dig in an area about 10 feet wide by 20 feet wide.

A source close to the investigation, and with knowledge of much of the evidence, told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli that the events of Friday were "very helpful in the overall and ongoing investigation into an alleged dogfighting ring at that property. ... Remember, this is an investigation into what has been considered an enterprise involving many people... From our standpoint, it never has focused on an individual and it still doesn't."

According to the documents, dog fights have been sponsored by "Bad Newz Kennels" at the property since at least 2002. For the events, participants and dogs traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas and other states.

Members of the venture also knowingly transported, delivered and received dogs for animal fighting, the documents state.

Fifty-four pit bulls were recovered from the property during searches in April, along with a "rape stand," used to hold dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified for dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting, the documents said.

The property was used as the "main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dog fighting venture," according to the filings.

The documents said the fights usually occurred late at night or in the early morning and would last several hours. The winning dog would win from "hundreds up to thousands of dollars," and participants and spectators also would place bets on the fight.

Before fights, the participating dogs of the same sex would be weighed and bathed, according to the filings. Opposing dogs would be washed to remove any poison or narcotic placed on the dog's coat that could affect the other dog's performance. Sometimes participants would not feed a dog before the fight to "make it more hungry for the other dog," the documents said.

Fights would end when one dog died or with the surrender of the losing dog, which was sometimes put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gun shot, electrocution or some other method, according to the documents. The property has an above-ground swimming pool, and investigators were seen looking into the pool Friday.

During a June search of the property, investigators uncovered the graves of seven pit bulls that were killed by members of "Bad Newz Kennels" following sessions to test whether dogs would be good fighters, the documents said.

Members of "Bad Newz Kennels" also sponsored and exhibited fights in other parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey and other states, the filings said.

Friday morning, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agent stationed at the gate on the southeastern Virginia property had no comment, ESPN's Kelly Naqi reported. The USDA is the federal agency with oversight over treatment of domestic animals and investigates dogfighting allegations.

The authorities arrived sometime after 6 a.m. ET. They finished their work at about 4:30 p.m. and declined to answer reporters' questions as they left.

Some of the investigators wore T-shirts reading: "Federal Agent USDA-OIG.''

An Associated Press reporter and photographer viewing the investigation from a helicopter could not clearly identify the evidence being collected.

State and federal investigators concentrated their search looking for dog carcasses allegedly buried somewhere behind the property, according to Naqi. At 1:30 p.m. ET, a backhoe pulled onto the property and began to maneuver by some black outhouses, located behind the main house, and headed further into the woods. Those black houses are where local investigators had found the items listed in the court documents, including the blood-stained carpeting and rape stand.

The property includes a metal gate at the entrance of the large white house and a fence around the perimeter, which obscured the work of investigators.

Corinne Geller, a spokesman for the Virginia State Police, said state authorities were working with federal investigators in an "assistance capacity."

On June 7, federal law enforcement officials descended on the property with a search warrant. More than a dozen vehicles went to the home early that day and investigators searched inside before turning their attention to the area where officials found dozens of dogs in late April and evidence that suggested the home was involved in a dogfighting operation.

Surry County officials had secured a search warrant in late May based on an informant's information to look for as many as 30 dog carcasses buried on the property. The warrant never was executed because Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter said he had issues with the way it was worded.

The results of that search have remained sealed.

At the time, Poindexter expressed surprise at why the federal government was involved.

"What is foreign to me is the federal government getting into a dogfighting case," Poindexter said. "I know it's been done, but what's driving this? Is it this boy's celebrity? Would they have done this if it wasn't Michael Vick?"

A day later, "They launched a separate, independent federal investigation," Poindexter said of the government, which has had a representative involved in the local probe all along.

A search warrant affidavit said some of the dogs were in individual kennels and about 30 were tethered with "heavy logging-type chains" buried in the ground. The chains allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact, one of myriad findings on the property that suggested a dogfighting operation.

Poindexter, on vacation in Louisiana, said by telephone he was unaware of Friday's search and was still pursuing what he called a parallel investigation. He said he assumed Surry County and federal officials eventually will share their evidence.

Vick initially said he had no idea the property might have been used in a criminal enterprise and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity. He also put the house up for sale and reportedly sold it quickly, although there is no record that the sale has closed. Vick has since declined to talk about the investigation.

Information from ESPN's Chris Mortensen, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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