Vick pleads to dogfighting charge; says he didn't make 'side bets'

Updated: August 24, 2007, 6:03 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick filed his plea agreement in federal court Friday admitting to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and agreeing that the enterprise included killing pit bulls and gambling. He denied making side bets on the fights, but admitted to bankrolling them.

As part of the plea deal, Vick agreed, if asked, to provide "full, complete and truthful cooperation" with federal prosecutors "regarding any criminal activity as requested by the government." That raises the strong possibility that prosecutors will ask Vick to tell them what he knows about dogfighting operations or other criminal activity.

Federal prosecutors are still recommending 12 to 18 months in prison for Vick, a source told ESPN.com's Kelly Naqi.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback is scheduled to formally enter his plea Monday in U.S. District Court.

The plea agreement also stipulates that if Vick violates its terms, either by failing to cooperate or by violating any law while cooperating, prosecutors are no longer bound by the deal to seek a lower sentence. In that case, Vick would also be liable to prosecution for perjury and obstruction of justice, according to the plea agreement.

Key points

From the summary of facts:

Gambling
• Vick agrees "that the 'Bad Newz Kennels' business enterprise involved gambling activities in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia as set forth in the indictment."
• "Most of the Bad Newz Kennels operation and gambling monies were provided by Vick."
• When the kennel's dogs won a fight, the gambling proceeds were generally shared by Vick's three co-defendants -- Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips.
• "Vick did not gamble by placing side bets on any of the fights. Vick did not receive any of the proceeds of the purses that were won by Bad Newz Kennels."

Killing of dogs
• "Vick agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips and Vick."

• "Peace, Phillips, and Vick agreed to the killing of approximately 6-8 dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions ... and all of those dogs were killed by various methods, including hanging and drowning."

-- ESPN

In the agreement, Vick agreed to plead guilty to the first count of the original two-count indictment against him -- that he was part of a conspiracy to operate a dogfighting ring across state lines. In return for the guilty plea and Vick's cooperation, the government agreed to seek a departure from the federal sentencing guidelines, though U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson is not bound by any recommendation or by the sentencing guidelines.

Later Friday, Vick was suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who wrote to Vick: "Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible. Your team, the NFL, and NFL fans have all been hurt by your actions."

"Most of the Bad Newz Kennels operation and gambling monies were provided by Vick," a summary of facts in the case stated, echoing language in plea agreements by three co-defendants who previously pleaded guilty.

The statement said that when the kennel's dogs won, the gambling proceeds were generally shared by Vick's three co-defendants: Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips.

"Vick did not gamble by placing side bets on any of the fights. Vick did not receive any of the proceeds of the purses that were won by Bad Newz Kennels," the summary stated.

According to the statement, Vick also was involved with the others in killing six to eight dogs that did not perform well in testing sessions in April. The dogs were executed by drowning or hanging.

"Vick agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts" of Vick and two of the co-defendants, Phillips and Peace, the statement said.

Both sides agreed that due to aggravating circumstances from the facts of the case -- namely, "the victimization and killing of pit bulls" -- prosecutors would go above the federal sentencing guidelines for the charge, but would recommend a sentence at the low end of the scale following that adjustment. That comes out to a range of a year to 18 months.

That language in the plea agreement for Vick is identical to language in the plea agreements that were signed by Phillips and Peace, but not by Taylor.

Roger Cossack on plea

ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack breaks down Michael Vick's plea deal and explains just what Vick is admitting to. Listen
• Mort on Goodell's decision Insider

Hudson, who will accept Vick's plea, has a reputation for imposing stiff sentences, according to lawyers who have appeared in his court. Vick will not be sentenced for several months.

"Our position has been that we are going to try to help Judge Hudson understand all the facts and Michael's role," Vick's lead defense attorney, Billy Martin, said in a telephone interview. "Michael's role was different than others associated with this incident."

Martin said Vick will "speak to the public and explain his actions," but he declined to say whether that will occur in court or in a news conference after Monday's hearing.

The U.S. attorney's office, which has declined to comment on the case, said it would issue a statement after the hearing.

Our position has been that we are going to try to help Judge Hudson understand all the facts and Michael's role. ... Michael's role was different than others associated with this incident.

Vick attorney Billy Martin

The case began in April, when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's Surry County property and found dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.

A federal indictment issued in July charged Vick, Peace, Phillips and Taylor with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent.

Taylor was the first to change his plea to guilty, saying Vick financed the dogfighting ring's gambling and operations. Peace and Phillips soon followed, disclosing that Vick joined them in killing dogs that did not perform well in test fights.

The sickening details outlined in the indictment and other court papers prompted a public backlash against Vick, who had been one of the NFL's most popular players.

Vick was barred from the Falcons' training camp, but neither the NFL nor the team have taken further action.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.