By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
Published: August 15, 2007
The assertion that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick gambled on dogfighting appears to be a more serious threat to his professional football career and freedom than the federal felony charges that he helped organize and run a dogfighting ring.
Federal prosecutors are preparing a new set of indictments in the case against Vick. The charges are believed to include counts stemming from gambling that he is suspected of having financed.
That is one reason Vickâ€™s lawyers are considering a guilty plea that would avoid a new indictment. Whether or not Vick pleads guilty, his suspected connection to gambling could jeopardize his football career.
The N.F.L. prohibits any association with gamblers or with gambling activities. Such involvement may result in severe penalties, including â€œa suspension from the N.F.L. for life,â€ the leagueâ€™s gambling policy states.
Tony Taylor, one of Vickâ€™s co-defendants, said in a statement of facts that he signed when he entered a guilty plea July 30 that the â€œgambling moniesâ€ used by the suspected dogfighting ring run from Vickâ€™s property â€œwere almost exclusively funded by Vick.â€
Taylor cited at least nine instances in which gambling took place on Vickâ€™s property in Surry, Va., or in which Vick was one of the sponsors for a dog in a fight in which a purse was won.
John Goodwin, who leads the dogfighting unit for the Humane Society of the United States, said: â€œThere are normally two types of gambling on fights, one in which side bets are made by spectators at the fights. The other is by owners who put up half the money for a purse in the fight, and the winner takes the whole pot.â€
In the indictment brought by the government July 17, the government said that after a dog Vick sponsored in a fight lost in March 2003, â€œhe retrieved a book bag from a vehicle containing approximately $23,000 in cash,â€ and gave the money to the owner of the winning dog.
Vick and his lawyers continued to weigh whether to accept a plea agreement from the government that would probably put Vick in prison for one to two years, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. Vickâ€™s trial date is Nov. 26, and he will face up to five years in prison if he is found guilty.
Jim Rybicki, a spokesman for the United States attorneyâ€™s office in the Eastern District of Virginia; and Collins R. Spencer III, a spokesman for Vickâ€™s legal team, declined to comment.
As Vick pondered his next move, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell awaited a recommendation on how to punish him. On July 23, Goodell appointed Eric Holder, a former deputy United States attorney general, to investigate the charges against Vick and provide the league with a report on how to proceed.
According to Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the N.F.L., Holderâ€™s investigation is relying only on â€œpublic record materialâ€ and is not being provided with any sealed evidence by the United States attorneyâ€™s office in Richmond, Va.
â€œThe commissioner cannot make a decision until he has the report from Eric Holder,â€ Aiello said in an e-mail message. â€œSo we do not have a timetable on making a decision.â€
Vick, who by Goodellâ€™s order is not in training camp, is the only defendant in the case who has not decided to plead guilty. On Monday, plea hearings for the two other defendants, Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach and Quanis L. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, were scheduled for tomorrow and Friday. As part of the plea agreements, Phillips and Peace would testify for the government against Vick, who is facing three felony charges.
Legal experts say that by holding the threat of more charges over Vick, with the possibility that the three other defendants may testify against him, the government has increased the leverage and pressure on Vick.
â€œThe government is doing two things at once,â€ Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, said in a telephone interview. â€œIt is putting more pressure on him to plead guilty by raising the potential sentence. And the government is also creating a framework within which it can prove a broader range of criminal activity and increase its likelihood of gaining at least one conviction at trial.â€
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