RICHMOND, Va. — More than football, Michael Vick’s freedom is the question now.
With three associates prepared to testify that he brutally executed dogs and bankrolled gambling, the NFL star agreed Monday to “accept full responsibility” for his role in a dogfighting ring and plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges.
The maximum term is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal sentencing guidelines likely would call for less.
Defense attorneys would not divulge details of the plea agreement or how much time Vick can expect to serve. However, a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the terms are not final, told The Associated Press that prosecutors will recommend a sentence of a year to 18 months.
The official said such a sentence would be more than what is usually recommended for first-time offenders, reflecting the government’s attempt to show that animal abusers will receive more than a slap on the wrist. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson is not bound by prosecutors’ recommendations or the sentencing guidelines and will have the final say.
Twenty-five days after he declared that he looked forward to clearing his name, Vick said through defense lawyer Billy Martin that he will plead guilty. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27.
“Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made,” Martin said in a statement. “Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.”
The NFL noted in a statement that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback’s admission wasn’t in line with what he told commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after being charged.
“We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons,” the NFL said.
The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL’s own investigation wraps up.
The Falcons said they were “certainly troubled” by news of the plea, but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell’s request.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a statement:
“We believe the criminal conduct to which Mr. Vick has pled guilty today cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Speaking personally, as I have previously stated, the practice of dog fighting is offensive and completely unacceptable. I can only hope that Mr. Vick, who is young man, will learn from this awful experience.”