RICHMOND — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges related to illegal dogfighting.
Vick and three others are charged with competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The dogfighting operation was named "Bad Newz Kennels," according to the indictment, and the dogs were housed, trained and fought at a Surry County, Va., property owned by Vick.
The indictment says the 27-year-old Vick and his co-defendants began a grisly dogfighting operation in early 2001, the former Virginia Tech player's rookie year with the Falcons. The indictment says dogs fought to the death — or close. Losing dogs were sometimes killed by electrocution, drowning, hanging or gunshots.
If convicted, Vick and the others — Purnell A. Peace, Quanis L. Phillips and Tony Taylor — could face up to six years in prison, $350,000 in fines and restitution.
Telephone messages left at the offices and home of Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward, were not returned. A woman who answered the phone at the home of Vick's mother said "no comment" and hung up.
"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
"The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts."
John Goodwin of the Humane Society, who said early in the investigation that the animal rights group had long heard Vick's name in connection with dogfighting, said the manner in which losing or unwilling fighters were killed was especially troubling.
"Some of the grisly details in these filings shocked even me, and I'm a person who faces this stuff every day," he said. "I was surprised to see that they were killing dogs by hanging them and one dog was killed by slamming it to the ground. Those are extremely violent methods of execution — they're unnecessary and just sick."
About eight young dogs were put to death at the Surry County home after they were found not ready to fight in April 2007, the indictment says. They were killed "by hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."
The 18-page indictment also establishes a rough chronology of events that reportedly happened:
c In March 2003, after a pit bull from Bad Newz Kennels lost in a fight, it says Peace consulted with Vick about the losing dog's condition, then executed it by wetting it down with water and electrocuting it.
c In March 2003, after two Bad Newz Kennels dog lost fights to dogs owned by a cooperating witness, it says Vick retrieved a bag containing $23,000 and gave it to the owner of the winning dogs. One of the fights had a $20,000 purse.
c In the fall of 2003, a person witnessing a dogfight involving one of the dogs trained by Bad Newz Kennels incurred the ire of another cooperating witness by yelling out Vick's name in front of the crowd during the fight.
It also says that after establishing Bad Newz Kennels in early 2002, Vick and the others obtained shirts and headbands promoting their affiliation with the kennel.
After a police raid on the property in April, Vick said he was rarely at the house, had no idea it may have been used in a criminal enterprise and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity.
On Vick's Web site, he lists his birthplace as Newport News, "aka BadNews."
The four men were accused of "knowingly sponsoring and exhibiting an animal fighting venture" and conducting a business enterprise involving gambling, as well as buying, transporting and receiving dogs for the purposes of an animal fighting venture.
Purses for the fights ranged from hundreds of dollars to the thousands, and participants and spectators placed side bets, the document said.
Local authorities have been investigating the reports since the April 25 drug raid at the property Vick owned. On June 7, officials with the Department of Agriculture got involved, executing a search warrant of their own at the property.
They found the remains of seven dogs that day.
Surry County prosecutor Gerald G. Poindexter said last night that he did not know of the indictment before it was filed and said he's not sure how the county will continue with its case. Initially angry when the feds moved in, Poindexter questioned their motivation but has said since that both sides were pursuing parallel investigations.
At the start, authorities seized 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting. About half the dogs were tethered to car axles with heavy chains that allowed the dogs to get close to each other but not to have contact — an arrangement typical for fighting dogs, according to the search warrant affidavit.
The indictment said dogfights were held at the Virginia property and dog owners brought animals from six states, including New York and Texas.
In a search warrant executed July 6, the government said the fights usually happened late at night or in the early morning and would last several hours.
Before fights, participating dogs of the same sex would be weighed and bathed, according to the filings. Opposing dogs would be washed to remove any poison or narcotic placed on the dog's coat that could affect the other dog's performance.
Sometimes, dogs weren't fed to "make it more hungry for the other dog," it said.