By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
A federal grand jury in Richmond indicted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three other men yesterday on charges related to their alleged operation of a dogfighting ring based at a property Vick owns in southeastern Virginia.
Vick, one of the NFL's most exciting players, was charged with competitive dogfighting and conducting the venture across state lines. The 19-page indictment alleged Vick was highly involved in the operation, alleging that he attended fights and paid off bets when his dogs lost. It said he also was involved in the executions of dogs that did not perform well.
If convicted, Vick could face a total of up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines. He could face additional discipline by the NFL, even if he is not convicted.
Vick's associates, Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor, were indicted on the same charges.
The NFL said the matter would be reviewed under the league's toughened personal conduct policy. "We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," the NFL said in a written statement. "We will continue to closely monitor developments in this case, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts."
Federal officials twice searched the property -- which was purchased by Vick near Smithfield, Va., in 2001 -- after suspicions were initially raised in late April. Officers reportedly found equipment associated with dogfighting, blood stains on the walls of a room and a bloodstained carpet stashed on the property. They reportedly removed more than 60 dogs from the property.
According to the indictment, Vick decided in his rookie season of 2001, with Phillips and Taylor, to start a dogfighting operation. Vick, who grew up in Newport News, paid $34,000 in June 2001 for a property at 1915 Moonlight Rd. and, according to the indictment, "used this property as the main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dogfighting venture and hosting dog fights."
The men, who named their enterprise the "Bad Newz Kennels," developed the property for their dogfighting operation, building a house, "a fence to shield the rear portion of the compound from public view [and] multiple sheds used at various times to house training equipment, injured dogs and organized fights," the indictment said.
The indictment details a series of dogfights in which members of the operation allegedly participated, including several fights in the fall of 2003 when Vick was sidelined with a broken leg.
The indictment said that in April 2007, Peace, Phillips and Vick "executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions by various methods, including hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground." Vick also is alleged to have consulted with Peace before Peace killed a losing dog by electrocution in 2003.
Vick, 27, who is a registered dog breeder, reportedly has agreed to sell the house. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution while in New York for the NFL draft in late April that he was not aware of dogfighting activities on the property, saying he rarely visited it.
Vick and his representatives declined to comment about the case after that and were not available to comment yesterday.
Dogfighting is a felony in Virginia and 47 other states. Transporting dogs over state lines for dogfighting is a federal crime.
"There have been cases in Virginia where there have been convictions and people sent to prison with far less evidence," John Goodwin, a dogfighting expert with the Humane Society, said recently. "They can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that dogfighting took place on that property."
In a statement, the Falcons, who open their training camp next week, expressed disappointment "that one of our players -- and therefore the Falcons -- is being presented to the public in a negative way, and we apologize to our fans and the community for that."
NFL officials said throughout the investigation that they were monitoring the case closely. Members of the league's security department reportedly offered their assistance to investigators in Surry County, Va.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Vick in New York at the draft and, Goodell said later, received a promise from Vick that "he's going to make changes in his life."
Goodell toughened the league's conduct policy in April and suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for all of the 2007 season and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson for the first half of it. The league's amended conduct policy says that Goodell may discipline a player even if the player has not been convicted of a crime.
AirTran Airways recently decided against renewing Vick's contract as a company spokesman. Vick reached a settlement last year with a woman who charged in a lawsuit that he had knowingly given her herpes. Last season, Vick was fined $10,000 by the NFL and agreed to donate another $10,000 to charity for making an obscene gesture toward fans while leaving the field after a game at the Georgia Dome in November.
In January, authorities said that a water bottle surrendered by Vick at a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport had a marijuana-like substance in a secret compartment. Later they announced that laboratory tests showed no evidence of drugs and that no charges would be filed. Vick said the compartment was used to store jewelry.