By BILL RANKIN, JEREMY REDMON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/16/07
Over the past month, the two lead prosecutors spearheading the federal case against Falcons quarterback Michael Vick have conducted the legal equivalent of a two-minute drill.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond got fully involved in the case against Vick after Memorial Day and now may wind up settling it with him before Labor Day. Overseeing the case have been Michael Gill and Brian Whisler, two assistant U.S. attorneys known for their work ethic and their tenacity in a courtroom.
"You can tell they developed witnesses pretty quickly because of their willingness to go after Vick," said Steven Benjamin, a Richmond criminal defense attorney. "You don't go this public and this high profile this quickly unless you think you have a strong case. They've been very efficient."
Gill and Whisler have more than 20 years experience in the federal court system, prosecuting everything from white collar offenses to violent crime. They have undoubtedly drawn on that experience in their case against Vick.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond publicly entered the dogfighting investigation with a search of Vick's Virginia property and effectively took over the case from local authorities. A month later, a federal grand jury handed up an 18-page indictment alleging dogfighting offenses against Vick, and one of his co-defendants has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Vick's remaining two co-defendants are expected to do the same Friday.
Vick, meanwhile, is close to a plea deal with Gill and Whisler as well, say people with knowledge of the case. He is hoping to avoid more serious charges in a superseding indictment â€“ including at least one racketeering charge.
"They have put Vick up against the wall," Michael Morchower, a Richmond criminal defense attorney, said of the prosecution team. "They have positioned [the case] so well that he has very little if any choice but to plead himself. They drafted a masterful indictment and they had more evidence to up the ante."
Through a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Richmond, Gill and Whisler declined requests for interviews, saying they would rather keep the spotlight on the dogfighting case.
Whisler and Gill work under U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg, who was appointed to his position by the Bush Administration in March 2006. Before coming to Virginia, Rosenberg served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas and worked in the U.S. Justice Department focusing on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and national security matters. He served as counselor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and as counsel to FBI director Robert Mueller.
Gill served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas from 2000 to 2005 before joining the U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond. In Virginia, he has successfully prosecuted cases involving armed robbery, racketeering and even an Internet fraud scheme in which the defendants sold counterfeit celebrity memorabilia with forged autographs to unsuspecting eBay customers.
Gill was raised in Miami, Texas, by his father, a cattle rancher, and his mother, a school teacher, said Bob Webster, a Dallas attorney who served as Gill's boss in the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas.
Before becoming a federal prosecutor, Gill, who got his law degree at the University of Virginia law school, worked for Strasburger & Price, a Texas law firm.
"He's a Horatio Alger story," Webster said. "He's a good, solid kid. He took his ranch ethic with him to the courthouse. He was there early in the morning until late at night. He's just exceptionally bright, an outstanding lawyer."
Webster said he was sorry to see Gill leave Dallas for Virginia, where his wife, also an attorney, took a job at a Richmond law firm.
"When he left, it broke our hearts," Webster said. "What you see with Gill is what you get. There are no hidden agendas, none whatsoever. He is just a very, very hard worker. He has an honest face and an honest demeanor, because that's what he's all about."
Webster also described Gill as a tenacious prosecutor.
"If I had Michael Gill on my [butt], I'd cop a plea post haste," Webster said.
Whisler was an assistant U.S. attorney in Charlotte, N.C., from 1993 to 2002 before transferring to the federal prosecutor's office in the eastern District of Virginia, where he serves as a supervisory assistant U.S. attorney. He has taken on a wide variety of cases, ranging from white-collar crimes to street-level cases involving gun and drug charges.
"Brian is a very hard-working, experienced prosecutor with a good sense of judgment," said James Wyatt, a Charlotte defense attorney. "I expect he is fully up to the task of handling the Vick matter."
One of Whisler's most noteworthy cases in Charlotte involved the highly publicized $17 million heist of Loomis, Fargo & Co. in 1997. A former Loomis supervisor looted the company's vault for one of the biggest thefts of its kind in U.S. history, according to published reports.
In all, 21 defendants were convicted in the case â€” all but one pleading guilty. "We've had our day in the sun and we're not going to gloat about the case," Whisler said, according to an Associated Press account, after the final defendant's sentencing. "We did what we were expected to do."
In October 1999, then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno presented Whisler and a fellow prosecutor in the case, David Keesler, a Justice Department award for their work on the Loomis, Fargo case.
"He's honest, a straight shooter and is not going to pull any punches," said Mark Calloway, the former U.S. Attorney in Charlotte, said of Whisler. "He's very reasonable in his approach to resolving cases, but he will try a case, too, if necessary."
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