Michael Vick is accused of being a party to dog fights with purses worth thousands of dollars, helping execute dogs that performed badly and turning his Surry County property into a dogfighting haven where members of his kennel could house their operation, according to an indictment issued by a federal grand jury against Vick and three others Tuesday.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback and Newport News native faces up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines for his role in a dogfighting operation that spanned six years and brought people from across the country to fights at the 1915 Moonlight Road property.
A federal grand jury indicted Vick, along with Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, also known as "P-Funk," and "Funk"; Quanis L. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, known as "Q"; and Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton, known as "T." According to the documents filed Tuesday, Vick went by the nickname "Ookie."
Phillips played football with Vick at Ferguson High School in Newport News before it closed in 1996.
All four have been charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.
According to the 18-page indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Vick is accused of buying the Moonlight Road property in 2001 with the goal of using it as "the main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dogfighting venture and hosting dog fights."
Not long after, the indictment alleges, the group bought its first dogs and began setting up the property as a dogfighting hideout: They built fences in the rear part of the compound to shield it from public view, built multiple sheds for storing equipment, housing injured dogs and staging fights. They are also said to have buried car axles in the ground and chained pit bulls to them.
The indictment said that around early 2002, the group had established Bad Newz Kennels -- their dogfighting enterprise, bearing a street nickname for Newport News. It further states that by the end of the year, they had staged their first dogfight on the property. The group even produced shirts and headbands promoting their crew, the indictment said.
Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward of Virginia Beach, did not answer the phone at his home or office late Tuesday night. Surry County Sheriff H.D. Brown was also unavailable for comment.
Vick has denied any dogfighting allegations since a search of the property on drug charges in April found evidence of dogfighting.
According to the documents, dogs with names like "Big Boy," "Maniac" and "Zebro" would fight one another at events the group would either host or bring their dogs to.
The indictment lists at least 30 fights that Vick or other members of Bad Newz Kennels is said to have participated in or attended between 2002 and early 2007 -- several held at the Moonlight Road property on the second flood of a shed.
When the dogs performed badly either in the ring or in test fights, they'd be executed, court documents said. Dogs were said to have been shot, hanged, drowned, electrocuted and at least one was killed by slamming the dog's body to the ground.
Court papers said that when one female lost a fight worth $26,000, she was put to death by electrocution.
"Peace, after consulting with Vick about the losing female pit bull's condition, executed the losing dog by wetting the dog down with water and electrocuting the animal," according to the indictment.
During one fight, a witness told investigators that he was criticized by a member of Bad Newz Kennels for yelling out Vick's name in front of a crowd. The indictment didn't include any additional information on that incident.
If convicted on the interstate commerce portion of the charge, each defendant could face a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution of any profits made during the venture. If convicted on the animal-fighting venture part of the charge, each defendant faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The court will likely have issued a summons for an initial hearing date today, said Jim Rybicki, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office.
Rybicki said Vick would not be arrested and would instead be ordered to appear in U.S. District Court in Richmond for his first hearing.
Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter said he was not surprised by Vick's indictment Tuesday but was caught off guard by the timing of it. "I thought it might take longer," he said.
Poindexter said his offices will continue to press forward with its investigation, regardless of federal charges of interstate criminal activity. "All we have to show is that dogfighting occurred in Surry County. I don't care what happened in North Carolina," Poindexter said. He was referring to the part of the indictment that said participants and dogs traveled from other states. He added that his office was interested in pursuing criminal charges on dog killing, which was not part of the federal indictment.
Organizers first raided Michael Vick's home on April 25 and seized 66 dogs, mostly pit bulls, some with scars and injuries. They also seized equipment commonly used in dogfighting -- including treadmills used for conditioning dogs, a stick to pry fighting dogs apart, and a "rape stand," a device used to hold down aggressive females for breeding.
Vick has maintained his innocence, however, telling reporters that he's "never" at the Moonlight Road property and that his cousin, Davon Boddie, lives there.
Vick's friends and relatives reacted with surprise to the news of his indictment Tuesday.
"Oh, yes ... No, I can't (comment)," said Linda Boddie, stepmother to Vick's cousin, Davon. "Davon is my stepson. So I have no comment at this time. I heard about it the same time every one else did -- over the news."
Tommy Reamon, head football coach at Gloucester High School, who coached Vick when he attended Warwick High School in Newport News, said he didn't know anything about the charges. "I had not heard that," he said. "I thank you for the call."
The first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, Vick has passed for 11,505 yards for 71 touchdowns in his six-year career with the Atlanta Falcons. He has also rushed for 3,859 yards, including an NFL-quarterback record of 1,039 last season.
Animal rights activists, who had been pushing since April to send the case before the federal government, said Tuesday's indictment was a coup. "It's clear from the court filings that this was an interstate network of dogfighters that went up and down the East Coast," said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. "That's why it was appropriate and necessary for the federal government to investigate it."
Dogfighting critics say the blood sport is pervasive among professional athletes, especially in the NFL.
The Falcons are still scheduled to report to training camp on July 25, with the first practice set for July 26, according to the Atlanta Falcons Web site. The team issued a statement Tuesday, saying it was "disturbed by today's news from Virginia."
"However, we are prepared to deal with it and will do the right thing for our club as the legal process plays out," the statement said. "We have a season to prepare for, and training camp opens next week."
In a statement, the National Football League said that while Vick's guilt had not yet been proven and the league was waiting for the legal process to play out, the matter would be reviewed under the League's Personal Conduct Policy.
Staff writers Jennifer Latson, Angie Green, Jennifer Williams, David Squires and David Teel contributed to this report. *
* Vick and three others are facing charges of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal- fighting venture.
WHAT THAT MEANS
* If convicted on the interstate commerce conspiracy, each person faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
* If convicted on the animal-fighting conspiracy, each defendant faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
* The defendants could also be forced to pay back any of the proceeds or property received from illegal activities.
* The court is expected to set an initial hearing date today. Vick and the other defendants are not expected to be arrested. Rather, they'll be issued a summons to appear before the U.S. District Court in Richmond.
TIMELINE OF THE CASE
APRIL 20: Davon Boddie was arrested in the parking lot of Royal Suite, a nightclub near the Wal-Mart on Cunningham Drive in Hampton, after a police dog alerted its handler that marijuana was in Boddie's vehicle. Police found marijuana. Boddie was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
APRIL 25: Investigators search the Surry County property where Boddie lived. The property is owned by Boddie's cousin, Atlanta Falcons quarterback and Newport News native Michael Vick. Investigators find 66 dogs, some injured and scarred, and items related to dogfighting.
APRIL 26: Vick says he's "never" at the property, a two- story house on 15 acres.
MAY 9: Vick puts the Surry property on the market asking $350,000, less than half of its assessed value, and it's under contract in less than a day.
MAY 21: Investigators meet with Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald Poindexter to discuss evidence. They leave the meeting without comment.
JUNE 19: Vick pulls out of a scheduled appearance at the 2007 Colonial All-Pro Football Camp at William and Mary, a month after canceling his own youth football camp. Vick cites a scheduling conflict in canceling the camp, which was to be held June 30 at Christopher Newport University.
JULY 6: Federal agents return to the Surry property and are seen digging and removing evidence.
JULY 17: Vick is indicted on a charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.
MICHAEL VICK AS A FOOTBALL PLAYER
* First player picked in the 2001 NFL Draft.
* Passed for 11,505 yards and rushed for 3,859 yards in six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
* Played in 2002 Pro Bowl after leading the Falcons to their first playoff appearance in four years.
* Was 22-1 in two seasons as the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech.
* Led the Hokies to an undefeated regular season as a freshman.
* Passed for 4,846 yards in his career at Warwick High School.