- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RICHMOND — One of Michael Vick’s co-defendants pleaded guilty yesterday to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges and agreed to fully cooperate with the government in its prosecution of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and two other men.

Tony Taylor, 34, who will be sentenced Dec. 14, said he was not promised any specific sentence in return for his cooperation.

Vick has pleaded not guilty to charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation.

His co-defendant, Taylor, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but federal sentencing guidelines likely will call for less. The guideline range will be determined by the court’s probation office, and U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson can depart from that range if he finds aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

“You’re pleading guilty and taking your chances, right?” Judge Hudson asked Taylor.

Taylor responded, “Yes.”

Taylor had the same answer when Judge Hudson asked: “You have agreed to cooperate fully with the United States, is that right?”

Taylor, of Hampton, Va., entered his plea to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.

Vick and two other co-defendants pleaded not guilty last week to the same charges.

The written plea agreement requires Taylor to “testify truthfully and completely at any grand juries, trials or other proceedings.” It says any truthful information provided by Taylor cannot form the basis of a stiffer sentence or additional charges.

Prosecutors have said a superseding indictment will be issued next month, which could mean more charges against Vick and the remaining co-defendants.

Taylor and his attorney, Stephen A. Hudgins of Newport News, Va., refused to answer reporters’ questions as they left the federal courthouse after the 15-minute hearing.

In Atlanta yesterday, NAACP leaders urged public restraint in judging Vick before he has his day in court.

R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the press and has been prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.

“If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime. But to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime,” Mr. White said at a press conference. “Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed.”

Prosecutors said in a July 17 indictment that Taylor found the Surry County property that Vick purchased and used as the site of “Bad Newz Kennels,” a dogfighting enterprise.

“The ‘Bad Newz Kennels’ operation and gambling moneys were almost exclusively funded by Vick,” a statement signed by Taylor says.

The statement also lists several dogfights that Taylor says Vick attended in Virginia and other states. The principals in the dogfighting ring split any winnings, and Taylor — who spent most of his time raising and training the pit bulls — used his share for living expenses, according to the statement.

Taylor also confirmed the indictment’s claim that he helped purchase pit bulls and killed at least two dogs that fared poorly in test fights.

According to the 18-page indictment, the dogfighting ring executed underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other brutal means. It purports that the fights offered purses as high as $26,000.

Taylor left the enterprise after a falling out with co-defendant Quanis L. Phillips and others in September 2004, according to the statement.

The grisly details outlined in the indictment have fueled protests and public outrage against Vick. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons‘ training camp while the league investigates.

Vick and Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, and Mr. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, are scheduled for trial Nov. 26. They remain free without bond.

Businesses have been quick to recoil. Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Vick, and Reebok stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey. In addition, two trading-card companies withdrew Vick items.

In an interview aired yesterday, Vick told Porsche Foxx on Atlanta radio station WVEE-FM, “I know I’ve put the city through a lot. … My [team] owner, Arthur Blank, who I love sincerely, I’ve put him through a lot. And you know it’s hurt me to put him through these situations to have to deal with that because he shouldn’t have to.”

Vick thanked those who have continued supporting him and added, “It’s a crisis situation for me, but I’m gonna get through it.”

The NAACP chairman said he will call Vick to see what assistance the Atlanta NAACP chapter can offer. He predicted that public opinion may worsen in the wake of Taylor’s plea deal.