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

8/24/2007 - NFL Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons + more

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.


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.

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.

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.