RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Michael Vick agreed Monday to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, a deal that leaves the Atlanta Falcons quarterback facing up to 18 months in prison and puts his NFL career in jeopardy.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Vick be sentenced to between a year and 18 months in prison, according to a government official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the terms have not yet been made final.
That would be a higher penalty than is usually recommended for first-time convicts, and reflects an attempt by the government to show that animal abusers will receive more than a slap on the wrist for their crimes, the official said.
The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson will have the final say on how much time Vick will ultimately spend in jail.
Vick’s plea hearing is Aug. 27.
Defense attorney Billy Martin said Vick reached an agreement with federal prosecutors after consulting with his family during the weekend.
“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,” Martin said in a statement. “Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.”
The NFL noted in a statement that Vick's admission wasn’t in line with what he told commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after he was initially charged.
“We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons,” the NFL said.
The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL’s own investigation wraps up.
The Falcons said they were “certainly troubled” by news of the plea but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell’s request.
In a telephone interview with the AP, Martin said Vick is paying a high price for allowing old friends to influence his behavior, but he emphasized that his client takes full responsibility.
“There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with,” Martin said. “He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process.”
The lawyer said salvaging Vick’s NFL career was never part of the discussions.
“Football is not the most important thing in Michael Vick’s life,” he said. “He wants to get his life back on track.”
Vick is charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. He had pleaded not guilty last month and vowed to clear his name at a November trial.
The plea deal was announced just a new grand jury began meeting. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in the works, but Vick’s plea most likely means he will not face additional charges.