- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

RICHMOND — It’s up to Michael Vick now.

His last two co-defendants pleaded guilty yesterday and implicated Vick in bankrolling gambling on dogfights. One of them said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback helped drown or hang dogs that didn’t do well.

With his NFL career in jeopardy and a superseding indictment adding more charges in the works, that left Vick with a hard choice: cutting his own deal to hold jail time under a year or go to trial and sit through detailed descriptions of the ghastly operation known as “Bad Newz Kennels.”

Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach entered plea agreements and agreed to testify against Vick. A third member of the dogfighting ring, Tony Taylor, struck a similar deal last month.

Vick’s lawyers have been negotiating with prosecutors. One of Vick’s attorneys, Lawrence Woodward, attended the plea hearings but declined to answer questions about the progress of the negotiations as he left the courthouse.

“Did you conspire with these folks to sponsor a dogfighting venture?” U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson asked Peace.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

As part of his plea agreement, Phillips signed a statement that said Vick joined in executing at least eight dogs that didn’t do well in test fights by various methods, including hanging and drowning.

“Phillips agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips, and Vick,” the statement said.

Phillips and Peace also backed up Taylor’s assertion that Vick was involved in gambling.

“The ‘Bad Newz Kennels’ operation and gambling monies were almost exclusively funded by Vick,” according to statements by the two men.

Those claims alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons’ training camp but has withheld further action while the league conducts its own investigation. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had no comment on the latest pleas.

Peace and Phillips pleaded guilty to the same charge facing Vick: conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. Sentencing was set for Nov. 30.

The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The men will get credit for accepting responsibility and cooperating with the government but would be penalized for animal brutality.

Peace remains free until sentencing, but Hudson found that Phillips violated the terms of his release by failing a drug test and ordered him jailed.

About 30 animal-rights activists protested quietly outside the courthouse. Afterward, as police officers cleared the scene, protesters continued waving large pictures of a mutilated dog.

“This is one dogfighting ring that’s been annihilated,” said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States.

The four defendants all initially pleaded not guilty, and Vick issued a statement saying he looked forward to clearing his name.

The case began in April with a search of Vick’s property in Surry County, a few miles from Vick’s hometown of Newport News. Investigators seized dozens of pit bulls, some of them injured, and equipment typically used in dogfighting operations.

The four men were indicted July 17.

Associated Press writer Dionne Walker contributed to this article.

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