By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007
It all started, Michael Vick's estranged father said, when the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was a child growing up in a rough area of Newport News, Va., and would join other neighborhood kids in setting loose a dog every so often to watch it chase a cat around a nearby lumberyard.
Vick's "fascination with animals" eventually would lead him to be an active participant in a dogfighting operation, Michael Boddie said in an interview yesterday in which he traced his son's involvement in the illegal activity to Vick's college days at Virginia Tech. Boddie said he was dismissed by his son when he tried to convince Vick that being involved in dogfighting was potentially harmful to his career.
"He said, 'Yeah, I know. But I've got it. I've got it well in hand,' " Boddie said.
As Vick prepares to plead guilty Monday to a federal dogfighting charge, family members have remained silent about the circumstances that led to his indictment. Boddie, whose relationship with Vick is so strained that the quarterback no longer speaks to him, offered his perspective on his son's legal troubles in a telephone interview. Some aspects of Boddie's account could not be verified through other sources, and one assertion -- that Vick held dogfights in the family's Newport News home in 2000 and 2001 -- was disputed by a former neighbor who remains a family friend. And Boddie acknowledged he asked his son, whose contract is worth $130 million, for $700,000 recently but was turned down.
Vick was not available to comment and his Washington-based attorney, William R. (Billy) Martin, did not respond to messages seeking a response. The Washington Post, seeking to verify Boddie's account, provided Martin's office with Boddie's version of events. A spokesperson for Vick's defense team replied with a statement attributed to another of Vick's lawyers, Daniel Meachum, that said: "It is a disgrace that Mr. Boddie, who chose for nearly 22 years not to be part of Mike's life, would at this time seek to capitalize on his son's current situation." The statement did not address the specifics of Boddie's account.
Several people around Vick have blamed his downfall on his inability to cut ties with questionable associates from his past. Boddie, who lives in the Newport News area but said he was in Atlanta yesterday, said Vick is "a good-hearted person" who couldn't bring himself to get rid of a circle of friends dependent on him for money. Boddie said two of those friends, co-defendants Tony Taylor and Purnell Peace, introduced Vick to dogfighting.
But Boddie added of Vick: "Nobody dragged him. My son has a fascination with animals anyway. He's a natural dog lover. In our neighborhood in the projects, little boys would get dogs to chase cats in the lumberyard. The big thing with little boys, [they'd] get a dog and sic 'em on the cats. That's what they'd do for fun . . . Yeah, [Vick] did that as a kid. Every little boy in the projects did that. It's a fascination thing. That's just part of his culture growing up.
"When he got into the dogfighting thing, that's the whole gladiator thing. It's like watching 'National Geographic' on TV. It's like watching two men fight. It's the sport. It's the sport of it, to him."
Boddie said his son had a pit bull named Champagne in college that was not a fighting dog. He said he suspects Vick became involved in dogfighting in 1999 or 2000, before he became the top overall selection in the 2001 NFL draft.
"I think he must have started getting into it when he was in college," Boddie said. "I'm not sure, but that's what I think."
Boddie said he never attended a dogfight with his son but he did raise pit bull puppies for him, care for injured dogs and prepare the garage at the family's one-time home in Newport News on three occasions in 2000 and 2001 to host fights.
"I sat there and watched them test dogs against each other" to see which dogs were suited for fighting, Boddie said. "I raised a couple puppy litters for him, and I've brought back to health dogs that were injured in fights for him. I have nursed those dogs back to health . . . I cleaned out the garage three times so they could have fights right there."
Boddie's account of dogfights taking place at the family's Newport News home was disputed yesterday by a former neighbor.
"That never happened," said Luis Suyas, who described himself as a friend of Vick and one of Vick's two sisters. "It never happened, man. His mom wouldn't allow it . . . His mom was very strict. She wouldn't approve of nothing like that, not in her house, not in her yard."
Suyas said there are "a lot of reasons" that Boddie would offer such an account. "Sometimes people be around for the wrong reasons and then if things don't go right, they become a knife in your back," Suyas said in a telephone interview.
The federal indictment against Vick said Vick, Taylor and fellow co-defendant Quanis Phillips decided in early 2001 to start a dogfighting venture, then picked a property in Smithfield, Va., that May and Vick purchased that June.
The indictment stated that Vick hosted or traveled to dogfights, paid off bets on lost fights and participated in the killings of dogs that didn't perform well. When Taylor pleaded guilty last month, he signed a statement saying that Vick funded the dogfighting operation and its gambling almost exclusively. When Phillips and Peace pleaded guilty last week, Phillips signed a statement saying that Vick participated in the killings of about eight dogs, some by hanging and drowning.
Boddie said that Vick was "all the way involved" in the dogfighting operation.
"It's his show," Boddie said. "He started it. He's the money man. Don't nothing move without him."
Boddie said that Vick no longer speaks to him. "I have to talk to my son through his assistant," he said.
Through that assistant, Boddie said, he asked his son about two weeks ago to buy him a $270,000 house, a car and a truck, and give him $150,000 to start a business. That request was refused, Boddie said, adding that he was told by Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, that Martin, Vick's attorney, believed he was attempting to extort money from the family.
Michael Boddie defended the request for money. "That's not asking for much from my son," he said. "Most fathers would want $10 million, $20 million."
Boddie also admitted to past problems with alcohol and drugs, and said his son's childhood surroundings help to explain Vick's legal troubles.
"When you come from there, you can't hold his hand," Boddie said. "He's seen his father drunk, high. I used to [mess] with cocaine, but I went to work every day. . . . He's seen it all. He's seen [people] drunk on the ground. He's seen dope deals being done. He's seen it all."
Vick has agreed to plead guilty to a federal dogfighting charge, Martin said Monday. Sources familiar with the case have said his recommended sentence will include 12 to 18 months in jail. A Surry County, Va., prosecutor said he intends to bring state charges as well, and Vick is facing a suspension by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy.
Vick's plea is to one conspiracy count in the federal indictment against him, sources have said. ESPN reported last night that Vick will maintain that, although he was present for the killings of dogs, he didn't participate in any killings and he didn't gamble on the fights.
Staff writer Steve Yanda and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.