Co-defendant says Vick bankrolled dogfighting ring

Associated Press
Tony Taylor, of Hampton, Va., walks through a crowd of media outside U.S. District Court, in Richmond, Va., Monday, July 30, 2007, after a plea agreement hearing. Taylor, 34, a co-defendent of Atlanta Falcon Quarterback Michael Vick, pleaded guilty Monday to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Vick and two other co-defendants pleaded not guilty last week to the same charges.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - One of Michael Vick's co-defendants pleaded guilty Monday to his role in a dogfighting conspiracy he says was financed almost entirely by the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

As part of a plea agreement, Tony Taylor pledged to fully cooperate with the government in its prosecution of Vick and two other men accused of running an interstate dogfighting enterprise known as "Bad Newz Kennels" on Vick's property in rural Surry County.

"The 'Bad Newz Kennels' operation and gambling monies were almost exclusively funded by Vick," a summary of facts supporting the plea agreement and signed by Taylor states.

The plea deal requires Taylor to testify against Vick and his two remaining co-defendants if called upon to do so. Taylor cannot get a stiffer sentence or face any new charges based on any new information he provides, according to terms of the agreement.

Additional charges are possible, however, against Vick and the other two. Federal prosecutors have said a superseding indictment will be issued in August.

Vick's lead attorney, Billy Martin, did not immediately return a phone message.

Taylor, 34, of Hampton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.

Vick pleaded not guilty to the same charges last week and said in a written statement that he looked forward to "clearing my good name." He also pleaded with the public to resist a rush to judgment.

The gruesome details outlined in the July 17 indictment have fueled public protests against Vick and prompted the suspension of some of his lucrative endorsement deals. Also, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons' training camp.

The summary of facts signed by Taylor supports the indictment's claims that the dogfighting ring executed underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other brutal means. Taylor admitted shooting one dog and electrocuting another when they did not perform well in test fights in the summer of 2002.

Vick, 27, attended several dogfights in Virginia and other states with his partners, according to the statement. Prosecutors claim the fights offered purses as high as $26,000.

Taylor, who will be sentenced Dec. 14, said he was not promised any specific sentence in return for his cooperation with the government.

He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000, although federal sentencing guidelines likely will call for less. The range will be determined by the court's probation office, but the judge can depart from that range if he finds aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Taylor and his attorney, Stephen A. Hudgins of Newport News, declined to answer reporters' questions as they left the federal courthouse. Prosecutors also would not comment.

During the hearing, Taylor spoke only in response to routine yes-or-no questions from U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. He answered "Yes" when the judge asked if he had agreed to cooperate with the government.

Taylor acknowledged in the summary of facts that he found the property that Vick purchased in 2001 for $30,000 for development into a dogfighting compound. Taylor says he maintained and trained the dogs for about three years, using his share of winnings _ which were split among the partners _ for living expenses.

He left the operation after a falling out with co-defendant Quanis L. Phillips and others in September 2004, according to the statement of facts.

Vick and Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, and Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, are scheduled for trial Nov. 26. They remain free without bond.

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