Vick to Plead Guilty to Dog Fighting Charges
Michael Vick’s lawyer said Monday the NFL star will plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, putting the Atlanta Falcons quarterback’s career in jeopardy and leaving him subject to a possible prison term. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal sentencing guidelines most likely would call for less. Vick’s plea hearing is Aug. 27.
“After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick asked that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him,” lead defense attorney Billy Martin said in a statement. “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. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.”
Martin’s announcement came as a grand jury that could add new charges met in private. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in the works, but Vick’s plea most likely means he will not face additional charges.
Three of Vick’s original co-defendants already have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach signed statements saying the 27-year-old quarterback participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging. Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty last month, also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating funds for his “Bad Newz Kennels” operation in rural Virginia, not far from Vick’s hometown of Newport News.
The gambling allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
The Falcons will not release Vick immediately; rather, they will wait to see what Goodell does and what is in the statement of facts when Vick enters the plea on Monday, Falcons officials told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio. If the league suspends Vick, the Falcons could then go after Vick’s signing bonus of approximately $22 million, because if suspended, then Vick would be in default of his contract.
Sports law prof Michael McCann looks at the factors that would cause Vick to throw away tens of millions of dollars rather than risk trial:
There are myriad factors for Vick to consider, including that his co-defendants have already agreed to plead guilty, but also that it can be hard for the government to convince every member of a jury that a defendant is “beyond a reasonable doubt” guilty, particularly when the defendant has almost limitless litigation resources at his disposal and a top legal team to utilize them. And, as we have discussed on this blog, there are potential questions as to how the evidence against Vick was obtained.
Also, he believes it almost a certainty that Vick will play again. He cites Gary Meyers of the NY Daily News.
His anticipated plea agreement in the dogfighting scandal could send him to jail for 12 to 18 months. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could then tack on a one-year suspension, or more, even a lifetime ban, depending on any illegal-gambling revelations that may emerge in the case. The Falcons are running away from Vick faster than he escapes the pocket; the odds of him playing for Atlanta again ranks only slightly higher than the ASPCA naming him doglover of the year.
It’s conceivable Vick may not be back on the field until 2010 — if he makes it back at all. He’s fighting to save his career.
The question, of course, is this: When he is out of jail and his suspension has been served, will any team have the courage to sign him? His alleged affinity for the underground and his role in the despicable world of dogfighting makes him a public-relations liability/disaster for any team that signs him.
It will take an owner secure of his standing in the community to sign Vick if he pleads guilty, as expected, or he goes to trial and is convicted. Still, several team officials contacted last week all anticipated that Vick will get a chance to resume his career once his legal problems are over.
“If he gets out in eight months and the league suspends him for one year, why wouldn’t he be able to come back into the league?” one general manager says. “If it’s two years that he hasn’t played football, why wouldn’t he play? He served his time. In America, if someone serves his time, are they allowed to come back with the freedom to work? Why is it different for a football player?”
NFL owners and GMs have certainly shown a willingness to take their chances with character problems if they have enough talent and the price is right. One could argue, certainly, that Ray Lewis and others were involved in crimes more serious thank Vick’s. Still, the image of what he did to those dogs will be a hard sell to even the hungriest fans.
Of course, if Al Davis is still around in 2010, anything’s possible.