September 23, 2014

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Co-defendants link Vick to dog executions

RICHMOND, Va. — It’s up to Michael Vick now.
His last two co-defendants pleaded guilty Friday and implicated Vick in bankrolling gambling on dogfights. One of them said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback helped drown or hang dogs that didn’t do well.
With his NFL career in jeopardy and a superseding indictment adding more charges in the works, that left Vick with a hard choice: Cutting his own deal to hold jail time under a year or go to trial and sit through detailed descriptions of the ghastly operation known as “Bad Newz Kennels.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Vick’s attorneys were negotiating with prosecutors as of late afternoon, trying to hammer out a plea deal.
“It seems to be a pretty clear indication there will be some sort of plea entered,” Blank said before the Falcons preseason game at Buffalo. “When? I’m not positive.”
Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach entered plea agreements and agreed to testify against Vick. A third member of the dogfighting ring, Tony Taylor, struck a similar deal last month.
One of Vick’s attorneys, Lawrence Woodward, attended the plea hearings but declined to answer questions about the progress of the negotiations as he left the courthouse.
“Did you conspire with these folks to sponsor a dogfighting venture?” U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson asked Peace.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
As part of his plea agreement, Phillips signed a statement that said Vick joined in executing at least eight dogs that didn’t do well in test fights by various methods, including hanging and drowning.
“Phillips agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips, and Vick,” the statement said.
Phillips and Peace also backed up Taylor’s assertion that Vick was involved in gambling.
“The ‘Bad Newz Kennels’ operation and gambling monies were almost exclusively funded by Vick,” according to statements by the two men.
Those allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Blank accused Vick of lying to the owner and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when they first questioned the quarterback about the allegations.
“It’s just very sad,” Blank said. “It’s sad that those allegations exist and now they are confirmed by others. It’s sad that Michael has put himself into that kind of situation. It’s his responsibility for putting himself into that situation.”
Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons’ training camp but has withheld further action while the league conducts its own investigation. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had no comment on the latest pleas.
Blank said he was stunned by the charges made against Vick by his co-defendants.
“It’s distressing after six years spending time with somebody, you think you know them and then there’s another side that is shocking to all of us,” the owner said. “Those statements of facts don’t match up with what the league was told, even our organization, and certainly not was said to the commissioner. So we’ll have to see what comes out in this plea and deal with the facts as soon as we have them.”
Peace and Phillips pleaded guilty to the same charge facing Vick: conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. Sentencing was set for Nov. 30.
The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The men will get credit for accepting responsibility and cooperating with the government but would be penalized for animal brutality.
Peace remains free until sentencing, but Hudson found that Phillips violated the terms of his release by failing a drug test and ordered him jailed.
About 30 animal-rights activists protested quietly outside the courthouse. Afterward, as police officers cleared the scene, protesters continued waving large pictures of a mutilated dog.
“This is one dogfighting ring that’s been annihilated,” said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States.
The four defendants all initially pleaded not guilty, and Vick issued a statement saying he looked forward to clearing his name.
The case began in April with a search of Vick’s property in Surry County, a few miles from Vick’s hometown of Newport News. Investigators seized dozens of pit bulls, some of them injured, and equipment typically used in dogfighting operations.
The four men were indicted July 17.
As if he didn’t have enough troubles, Vick was cited for not wearing a seat belt when a car he owned was pulled over Thursday by Virginia state troopers.
The officer stopped the car because the tint on the windows was too dark, state police Sgt. D.S. Carr said. The Vick-owned vehicle was being driven by someone else when pulled over in Isle of Wight County.
The driver was cited for the tint and Vick was slapped with a $25 fine for not wearing his seat belt. There are no court costs, and Vick doesn’t have to go to court.
“He can prepay it if he wants to,” Carr said.
Associated Press writers Dionne Walker and Dena Potter in Richmond and AP sportswriter John Wawrow and freelance writer Bob Matuszak in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.