Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges related to illegal dogfighting.
Vick and three others are charged with competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The dogfighting operation was named "Bad Newz Kennels," the indictment states, and the dogs were housed, trained and fought at a Surry County, Va., property owned by Vick.
The indictment alleges that the 27-year-old Vick and his co-defendants began a grisly dogfighting operation in early 2001 in which dogs fought to the death — or close to it.
Losing dogs were sometimes killed by electrocution, drowning, hanging or gunshots.
If convicted, Vick and the others — Purnell A. Peace, Quanis L. Phillips and Tony Taylor — could face up to six years in prison, $350,000 US in fines and restitution.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of Vick's mother said the family knew nothing about the charges.
"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal.
"Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts."
After an initial raid in April, Vick said he was rarely at the house, had no idea it may have been used in a criminal enterprise and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity.
On Vick's website, he lists his birthplace as Newport News, "a.k.a. BadNews."
Venture involved gambling
The four men were accused of "knowingly sponsoring and exhibiting an animal fighting venture" and conducting a business enterprise involving gambling, as well as buying, transporting and receiving dogs for the purposes of an animal fighting venture.
Purses for the fights ranged from hundreds of dollars to the thousands, and participants and spectators placed side bets, the document said.
About eight young dogs were put to death after they were found not ready to fight in April 2007.
They were killed "by hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground," according to the indictment.
The FBI and local authorities have been investigating the allegations since an April 25 drug raid at the property Vick owned.
Authorities seized 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
About half the dogs were tethered to car axles with heavy chains that allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact — an arrangement typical for fighting dogs, according to the search warrant affidavit.
The indictment said dogfights were held at the Virginia property and dog owners brought animals from six states, including New York and Texas.
In a search warrant executed July 7, the government alleged the fights usually occurred late at night or in the early morning and would last several hours.
Before fights, participating dogs of the same sex would be weighed and bathed, according to the filings.
Opposing dogs would be washed to remove any poison or narcotic placed on the dog's coat that could affect the other dog's performance.
Sometimes, dogs weren't fed to "make it more hungry for the other dog," it said.