ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Superstar quarterback Michael Vick is in trouble, and it's not because a football game is on the line. The Atlanta Falcon's signal caller is one of four people indicted by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from illegal dog fighting.
If convicted, Vick and the other alleged conspirators face up to six years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Well, joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. And Tom, walk us through this. This investigation has been going on for months. What exactly is Vick charged with?
TOM GOLDMAN: Well, Vick and three other co-conspirators - Pernell Peach, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor - they're charged with competitive dog fighting, buying and training pit bulls for fighting and participating in these illegal activities across state lines.
SIEGEL: Allegedly, pretty violent operation according to the indictment. What have you learned about that?
GOLDMAN: Well, the Humane Society certainly will tell you that any dog fighting is violent for the dogs who win, certainly for the dogs that lose. But one particularly startling and disturbing part of this indictment talks about the man indicted here actually executing some of the dogs that didn't cut it. And I read from the indictment here. This is from April of this year, when federal and local law enforcement officials first made the raid on Vick's property.
It says that Vick and two others executed approximately eight dogs that didn't perform well. And they did this by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground - very disturbing stuff.
SIEGEL: Tom, what has Michael Vick, or his lawyer for that matter, have had to say about this?
GOLDMAN: Well, they have said nothing. The indictment just came down late on Tuesday. Back in April, when that raid happened, that I mentioned, Vick did say that he was rarely at the property in question. He didn't know that it may have been used as part of a criminal enterprise, and he blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity.
SIEGEL: And what has the National Football League had to say about this?
GOLDMAN: The NFL came out with a written response. Spokesman Brian McCarthy said, and I quote, "we are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him. The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concern should allow the legal process to determine the facts.
SIEGEL: Now, Tom, do I have this right that the six-year prison terms and the big fines - those reflect stronger anti-dog fighting laws that have been enacted recently?
GOLDMAN: Yes, quite recently, Robert. Just within the last couple of months, federal dog fighting charge was a misdemeanor and likely would result in a probation and fine. The new federal law makes it a felony to organize a dogfight with very tough penalties - several years imprisonment possibly, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
SIEGEL: Now, of all the National Football League's player-personnel problems, I can't imagine that criminal dog fighting charges ranked high on their agenda. What are they likely to do about this?
GOLDMAN: Well, the first thing they'll do as the spokesman said in that statement is they're going to let the legal process play out before they take any action. But you can be certain that League Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to be watching this very closely. He came into office as commissioner of the NFL with a mandate to really crack down on bad player behavior.
You know, baseball has been smeared by the drug issue. Player conduct is the big problem for the NFL. And Roger Goodell has said, and through his actions, has showed that he's going to crack down on this. We'll just have to wait and see what the legal process brings with Mike Vick before Goodell takes any action. But you can bet that he's not happy about this.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Robert.
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