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RICHMOND, Va. — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick agreed Monday to plead guilty in a dog-fighting case that threatens to wreck the career of one of football’s most dynamic stars.
A strong-armed quarterback and breakaway runner, the 27-year-old Vick is accused of helping to run an interstate dog-fighting enterprise known as “Bad Newz Kennels” from 2001 through April 2007.
Dogfighting, in which two dogs bred to fight are placed in a pit to attack each other for spectators’ entertainment and gambling, is illegal.
Prosecutors charged that dogs sometimes fought to the death and some losing or underperforming dogs had been shot, drowned, hanged, electrocuted or killed by being slammed to the ground.
Vick had initially denied direct involvement in pit bull fights that an indictment said took place on his property in Virginia. He accepted the deal after associates agreed to cooperate with prosecutors under their own plea deals.
“Mr. Vick will be entering a plea of guilty next Monday at 10:30,” U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson told a group of some 20 reporters at the federal courthouse in Richmond.
“No details of the plea agreement are publicly available at this time,” added Hudson, who did not answer questions. Vick was not present, and the judge said the player would appear at the courthouse for the hearing next week.
Vick, one of the NFL’s highest-paid players, could go to jail. Without a deal, the quarterback was likely to face a new indictment with more charges, legal sources had said.
Vick, the top pick in the 2001 NFL draft out of Virginia Tech, faced up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines if convicted on all of the initial charges.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 17. The NFL, its season due to start next month, barred the three-time Pro Bowl selection from training camp after the indictment.
In a statement issued Monday, Vick’s lead attorney, Billy Martin, said, “Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.”
The NFL on Monday condemned Vick’s conduct as outlined in the charges and said it was conducting its own review. The league has the right to add a further suspension beyond any jail time Vick may have to serve.
Purnell Peace, 35, and Quanis Phillips, 28, pleaded guilty last week before Judge Hudson to one count involving the dog-fighting ring, which prosecutors say was run from Vick’s property in Virginia.
The judge set sentencing for the two men on Nov. 30.
The only other defendant, Tony Taylor, 34, pleaded guilty late last month and also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Vick.
Vick, a rare talent who threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for more than 1,000 yards last season for the Falcons, lost major endorsements following his indictment. Nike suspended the release of a new Michael Vick shoe that had been set to hit stores this month and Reebok stopped selling his jerseys.
He has been heavily criticized in the media and by animal rights groups.
“We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons. We will conclude our own review under the league’s personal conduct policy as soon as possible,” the NFL said in a statement. “In the meantime, we have asked the Falcons to continue to refrain from taking action pending a decision by the (NFL) commissioner.”
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