By Lester Munson
Tony Taylor, one of three individuals charged along with Michael Vick in a dogfighting and gambling scheme in Virginia, entered a plea of guilty on Monday. Taylor, 34, agreed to testify against Vick and others at a trial that will begin in federal court in Richmond, Va., on Nov. 26.
Taylor now faces a maximum of five years in prison and will be sentenced on Dec. 14. His admission of guilt and his promise to testify for the government raise a number of new questions about the case against Vick. Here are some answers:
What does Taylor's guilty plea mean for Vick?
Taylor's plea is terrible news for Vick. The information Taylor is providing to the government could result in additional charges against Vick in the superseding indictment that federal prosecutors said they will file in August. More importantly, Taylor's testimony at the trial in November could be highly damaging to Vick. According to the indictment, Taylor was with Vick and co-defendant Quanis Phillips early in 2001 when they "decided to start a venture" that became Bad Newz Kennels and a large dogfighting operation. Taylor's account of that meeting will help establish the "conspiracy" that federal prosecutors will use to pile up evidence against Vick at the trial. Even if Vick was not personally present for some of the fights and some of the executions of losing dogs, the "conspiracy" information from Taylor will bolster the prosecution's use of that evidence against Vick.
What will Taylor be doing for the federal prosecutors now that he has admitted his guilt?
Taylor has signed an agreement that requires him to cooperate with the prosecutors and tell them everything he knows. If he is caught lying, he faces serious trouble. He will be interviewed extensively. In a highly unusual procedure outlined in Taylor's plea agreement, he can be subjected to lie detector tests on the information he gives. He will also testify before the grand jury, probably before the new indictment is filed next month. And he will testify at the trial that will begin Nov. 26. Taylor is also obligated to turn over all of his records and files, evidence which could be even more compelling than his testimony.
What, specifically, will Taylor be telling the government when he testifies against Vick?
Testimony from Taylor could show that Vick and his money were essential to the dogfighting scheme. Taylor, according to the indictment and building permits in Virginia's Surry County, used Vick's name and Vick's money to build the kennel's headquarters on Vick's 15 acres in rural Virginia. He built three sheds used in the dogfighting scheme for fighting, training and storing equipment. Taylor also used Vick's name and Vick's money to build the enormous, white brick house where Taylor and others lived as they took care of dozens of pit bulls. In documents filed Monday, government prosecutors also revealed that Taylor will testify that the kennel's gambling was "almost exclusively funded by Vick."
What other charges are possible as the result of Taylor's cooperation with federal prosecutors?
One of the admissions Taylor makes in his agreement with the government is that the kennel and the dogfighting were part of a "business enterprise." Vick and his lawyers do not want to hear about any "business enterprise." It could become the foundation for a racketeering charge in the new indictment to be filed next month. A racketeering charge would raise the stakes for Vick and the others. If they're convicted of racketeering, they could face stiffer prison sentences and forfeitures of anything they own. It was bad enough for Vick to have to defend himself against charges of a conspiracy that lasted for six years in five states. A racketeering charge would make it even more difficult for Vick and his five lawyers to mount a defense.
Will either of Vick's other co-defendants join Taylor in pleading guilty and testifying for the federal prosecutors?
The prosecutors might be interested in one more guilty plea, especially if it can bring in evidence beyond what Taylor has already delivered. The defendant who probably could give the most to the government in a plea deal is Purnell Peace. He is mentioned 58 times in the indictment. The other co-defendant, Quanis Phillips, is mentioned only 37 times, many of them in references that also included Taylor.
But it is unlikely that both of the remaining co-defendants will be able to cut deals with the government and plead guilty. The prosecutors probably will try to avoid a trial scenario that results in Vick sitting alone before a jury to face the charges. Sitting alone in the courtroom against the might of the federal government could cause some jurors to feel a bit of sympathy and compassion for Vick that they might not otherwise feel.
How does the Vick investigation in Richmond, Va., compare with the federal investigation of Barry Bonds in San Francisco?
The first raid on Vick's dogfighting compound was on April 25. In only three months, agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal prosecutors have put together enough powerful evidence against Vick to get an indictment with specific and brutal details of crimes committed over six years in five states. Vick's trial will begin only seven months after the initial raid. Bottom line: The Vick investigation has been quick and definitive.
The investigation into BALCO and Barry Bonds, in contrast, has been slow and inconclusive. Although the BALCO investigation began nearly four years ago and involves very different kinds of charges, it has yet to answer many major questions. The U.S. Attorney who first led the probe (Kevin Ryan) was among the eight fired by the Bush administration. (His replacement might yet pick up the pace of an investigation that had faltered under Ryan.) The only serious sentence in BALCO so far has come for leaking grand jury materials. Two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, seem to have made more progress than the federal investigators. They've published a book that defines possible perjury and obstruction of justice by Bonds.
Statistics indicate that federal prosecutors are victorious in more than 90 percent of their cases. Can this be true?
Yes. It can be and is true. Federal prosecutors should succeed in more than 90 percent of their cases. They are supported by highly trained and specialized agents of the IRS, FBI, DEA and, in the Vick prosecution, the Department of Agriculture. Federal prosecutors look over what those agents bring them. If the prosecutors aren't satisfied with the evidence, they refuse to prosecute. They won't even present the case to the grand jury. Most state court prosecutors, in contrast, don't have that privilege. They are stuck with whatever evidence the police bring them, and often must go forward even if they have doubts about their prosecutions.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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