Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick agreed on Monday to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, a move that could jeopardize his NFL career.
The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 US fine, although the plea bargain agreement likely means Vick will serve less time.
Vick's attorney said the Falcons star has reached a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty in the high-profile case that has attracted worldwide media attention.
Vick, 27, is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Three of Vick's co-defendants — Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor — alreadypleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial.
"After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick asked that I announce today [Monday] that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him," lead defence attorney Billy Martin said in a statement.
"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. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."
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.
Phillips and Peace signed statements saying the NFL quarterback participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.
Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating funds for his Bad Newz Kennels operation in Surry County, Va., near Vick's hometown.
Vick had pleaded not guilty last month and vowed to clear his name at a November trial.
The NFL is conducting its own investigation into the charges, and Vick has been barred by commissioner Roger Goodell from reporting to Falcons training camp, which opened last month in Flowery Branch, Ga.
If he sees fit, Goodell could use the NFL's personal conduct policy to suspend Vick for the 2007 season.
"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 league said in a statement Monday.
The NFL also said it asked the Falcons "to continue to refrain from taking action pending a decision by the commissioner."
The Falcons issued a public statement of their own, saying they were "certainly troubled" by the news of Vick's plea and that it would not make further comment in compliance with Goodell's request.
Vick, a three-time Pro Bowler who set an NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for 1,039 yards last season, signed a 10-year, $130-million US contract extension on Dec. 23, 2004.