ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Star NFL quarterback Michael Vick has signed a plea deal admitting to being part of a conspiracy to run a dogfighting ring. The ring included gambling and killing dogs that didn't perform well, but Vick says he didn't bet on dogfights. Vick's plea agreement was filed today in federal court in Richmond, Virginia. He'll appear on that court Monday to formally plead guilty in the case.
We are joined now NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, what did Vick say about his role?
TOM GOLDMAN: Well, Robert, as you said, he admits being part of a conspiracy to engage in a dogfighting ring and crossing state lines in this enterprise. He bought the property in Virginia, where dogs were trained and fights took place, the so-called Bad Newz Kennels. And he took part in those training and fighting activities. He also helped transport dogs to other states for a fight. And he admitted to the most sensational aspect of the case - that he helped execute pit bulls that didn't perform well. According to the summary of fact, which accompanies the plea agreement, Vick and two co-defendants killed six to eight dogs by drowning or hanging in April, just four months ago.
SIEGEL: But what is the plea agreement say about gambling?
GOLDMAN: It says that he bankrolled gambling by his co-defendants. He basically put up the money for them to bet. But he makes the distinction that he didn't bet on fights. Specifically, the summary of facts says that he didn't play side bets and he didn't pocket any of the winnings. Now this is an important point because the NFL is looking seriously at the gambling aspect of this case in trying to determine whether or not to suspend Vick.
The NFL is troubled by the potential gambling. As you know, league rules prohibit involvement in illegal gambling activities. Players have been banned for that. But the question is, does Mike Vick's definition of not gambling -meaning, again, he didn't place bets on dogfights. He didn't take any of the winnings. Does that really mean he didn't participate in gambling? After all, he put up the money for it.
Now, one gambling expert I talked to agrees. This doesn't constitute gambling. It's Mike Vick basically lending money, knowing what it's going for. But if you can't gain or lose financially then it isn't gambling.
SIEGEL: But come Monday, Michael Vick, we assume, will plead guilty to a federal felony. What's the NFL's next move?
GOLDMAN: We don't know yet. We want to find out what the league thinks about the gambling semantics issue. Commissioner Roger Goodell is waiting to take action until a league investigation is complete. The NFL also was waiting until they found out what was in the summary of facts. We now know - no word yet from the league on what they're going to do.
SIEGEL: We've gotten a sense today what Michael Vick's side, what his lawyers have submitted in a way of his end of the deal. What about the prosecutors' part of the deal? Do we know what they're going to ask for in the way of a sentence?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. We do have a sense from the plea agreement. We - the prosecutors reportedly are recommending a prison sentence on the lower end of a range between 12 and 18 months. Now, the federal judge in this case, Henry Hudson -he decides the sentence - he doesn't have to take that recommendation. And there is a maximum penalty here of five years in prison. Hudson has a reputation for being fair, but firm in his sentencing. And Monday, he'll announce a sentencing date. We shouldn't get a sentence on Monday. We will get a sentencing date.
SIEGEL: But you're saying that the prosecutors are thinking in terms of a - the low end of the prison sentence but they are thinking in terms of prison time.
GOLDMAN: Yes. Yes. At this point, we are assuming that Michael Vick will do prison time. At this point, it's just a matter of how long, and that will be up to U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Goldman.
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