RICHMOND -- William Frick is a former prosecutor for the South Carolina Attorney General's office who in 2004 successfully prosecuted David Ray Tant, one of the most notorious dog fighters to come through the criminal justice system.
Tant is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence in a South Carolina state prison after being charged with 41 counts of dog fighting and one count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. Tant's sentence is believed to be one of the heaviest involving dog fighting in the country.
Frick, now an attorney in private practice for the Koon & Cook law firm in South Carolina had heard a rumor of Vick being involved in dog fighting in South Carolina at the time of his investigation into Tate. He answered several questions about the Vick case and its latest developments following guilty pleas filed by co-defendants Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips in a U.S. District Court in Richmond today, in which they singed documents alleging that Vick almost exclusively funded a dog fighting operation and participated in the execution of eight dogs along with posing for a picture with a pit bull before a dog fight.
DAILY NEWS: What kind of impact will those details in the "summary of facts" signed by Peace and Phillips today have on Vick's case?
Frick: "I think it does have a significant impact. What it really means is Vick and his defense team need to work out some sort of plea deal before that 'superseding indictment' (whcih the feds have said they will file if Vick does not accept a plea agreement). Information of him funding the operation, it really goes far into hurting him if the feds decide to come forth with a racketeering indictment. Plus what it will do is it will make him score extra points on the federal guideline scale as the ring leader of the operation."
DN: What is the federal sentencing guideline scale? And how does it relate to a potential Vick plea deal?
Frick: "When you look at the federal sentencing guidelines every offense has a base level. Every offense has a number, that is the number you start with. Then you add or subtract points and the points vary according to the sentencing guidelines based on your role in the operation. Normally they will add points if you are a ring leader or manager. If you accept responsibility, they subtract points. If you have no criminal record, they subtract points. Usually the Department of Probation does a pre-sentencing report where they independently look at what the risk is and the base level score and all the points added or subtracted and the judge looks at it and sees if it is appropriate according to the guidelines. What the defense is trying to do is negotiate what that score will be before they get into sentencing. The plea will be governed by what they are trying to get on that score and what Vick's ultimate punishment will be. That number will probably be hammered out as best as it can be before they enter a guilty plea."
DN: A source tells the Daily News that Vick agreed in principle to a plea deal but that his lawyers are negotiating the details and that it could fall apart at any time. Can you agree in principle to a plea but still negotiate it?
Frick: "What it sounds like they are trying to do is the defense team is trying to get a recommended sentence or a negotiated sentenced out of the prosecutors. I think they are trying to get less than a year. That seems to be the magic dividing line whether you can get home detention or the possibility of probation. What it sounds like to me is they agreed that he is going to plea guilty to a charge, probably a conspiracy (dog fighting) charge but they are still trying to come to terms. They want to ensure what his sentence will be before they leave it up to a judge. They are trying to get some sort of certainty as to what the sentence is going to be."
DN: There was a reported deadline set by the federal prosecutors for Vick to enter a plea by yesterday morning. Can Vick miss a deadline set by the federal authorities and still keep negotiating throughout this weekend on a plea?
Frick: "It may be one of those type things that if they do have a plea in principle that the feds may hold back. That may be an agreement they have, 'let's keep working on these numbers, we are going to do something but don't call that grand jury.' I don't know whether the prosecutor up there is willing to hold back. I don't know how hard and fast that deadline is. As far as the deadline today, I think that was imposed by the U.S. Attorney's office. I think that is a deadline that is movable. It has been my experience that unless there is no reason for the prosecution to yield, they are flexible on that if it looks like progress is being made."
DN: Gerald Poindexter, the Virginia Commonwealth attorney in Surry County, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he plans to prosecute Vick and others on animal cruelty and dog fighting charges. How do state charges affect the federal plea negotiations? Can federal prosecutors give Vick immunity from potential state charges?
Frick: "I'm sure people are on the phone talking to each other but the feds can't tie the state and the state can't tie the feds. If he was in state court, they can't say, 'if you plead here we will keep you from fed charges.' You will not see a formal plea agreement saying he will plea to federal charges and this is what he is going to get in state charges."
"(The federal prosecutors and state prosecutor) will probably talk and it has been my experience that the state and feds don't talk too much and a lot of times don't get along too well. I am pretty sure that the defense is trying to make sure there is some kind of communication. The defense is trying to figure out what Virginia wants to do and what the feds want to do and come up with the best deal on both sides."
DN: What is your view on Vick's case after today's developments?
Frick: "I think he would be in serious trouble if he did not work out a plea. I think he gets the extra point for being deemed the ring leader of the operation and I think the feds will come forward with the racketeering statute (in a superseding indictment) and he would be the ring leader on that. You are talking about the difference of knowing you might have to do one year at the worst (now) to five or six years at best (if those racketeering charges come). That is my estimation."
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