By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
One of Michael Vick's co-defendants pleaded guilty yesterday to helping run a dogfighting ring in southeastern Virginia and named the Atlanta Falcons quarterback as being deeply involved in the venture.
Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton, also known as "T," entered his plea to a conspiracy charge in U.S. District Court in Richmond, according to court documents and prosecutors. Taylor admitted that he helped start "Bad Newz Kennels" with Vick and two other co-defendants in 2001 and participated fully in the enterprise before leaving in 2004.
Although prosecutors would not comment on whether Taylor is now expected to testify against Vick, court documents made clear that his plea could place Vick in legal jeopardy. The plea agreement requires Taylor to "cooperate fully and truthfully" with the government, and Vick's name appears throughout a "Summary of the Facts" filed along with the plea and signed by Taylor.
The statement says for the first time that the dogfighting ring's operations and gambling money -- sometimes thousands of dollars per fight -- "were almost exclusively funded by Vick." It says Vick paid more than $30,000 to purchase the property near Smithfield, Va., where the operation was based, and attended dogfights. The indictment said he helped execute animals that performed poorly by hanging, drowning and electrocutions.
Attorneys for Taylor and Vick did not return telephone calls yesterday. Vick pleaded not guilty last week and has vowed to fight the allegations.
A federal grand jury last week indicted Vick and his associates -- Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips -- on charges related to their alleged operation of the ring. If convicted, Vick faces up to six years in prison. Taylor faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 14.
The case has triggered a storm of protest from animal rights activists, who packed the streets of Richmond for Vick's court appearance last week and booed and screamed at him as he left the courthouse. A few dozen Vick supporters were equally voluble.
Vick gained more support yesterday in Atlanta, where the president of that city's NAACP branch, R.L. White, criticized what he called the "viciousness" of Vick's opponents.
"To be sure, the allegations against him are very serious," White said at a news conference, "but even worse than the allegations is the way he is being vilified by animal rights groups, radio talk show hosts and even the press before he has had his day in court."
In a radio interview yesterday in Atlanta, Vick did not address the charges or Taylor's plea. He said he hopes to play for the Falcons again but is uncertain if he will be allowed to do so.
"Hopefully I'll see you all again," Vick said. "It remains to be seen. But that's what I'm working on." Vick reportedly called in from Virginia for the interview with station WVEE, which agreed not to ask him about the case.
The NFL is reviewing the charges to determine whether Vick will be allowed to rejoin the Falcons and play when their regular season begins Sept. 9. The team opened training camp last week, but Vick was under orders from the league to stay away pending completion of the review. It is unclear when it will be finished.
The court documents filed yesterday with Taylor's plea mirror much of the language of the indictment. In them, Taylor admitted that he decided to start the dogfighting venture along with Vick and Phillips and that he identified the property before Vick bought it.
The documents say Taylor was involved in virtually every aspect of the operation, including the execution of a poorly performing dog in 2002. He quit in September 2004, the documents said, after a disagreement with Phillips "and others."
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.