Embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty Monday to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge in Richmond, Va.
Vick, who is suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, entered his plea in front of U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
Vick will be sentenced on Dec. 10andcould facea prison term.
Vick's plea agreement, worked out by his attorney and federal prosecutors last Friday, was accepted by Hudson, who asked: "Are you entering the plea of guilty to a conspiracy charge because you are in fact guilty?"
Vick replied, "Yes, sir."
Hudson then informed Vick that he is not bound by the sentencing guidelines of the plea agreement, and can send the pivot to prison for a maximum of five years.
"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson said.
After his plea hearing, Vick personally apologized to Goodell and hisAtlanta teammates during a news conference for "using bad judgment and making bad decisions."
"First I want to apologize for all the things that I've done and that I have allowed to happen," said a sombre Vick.
The six-year NFL veteran also expressed regret "to all the young kids out there for my immature acts."
"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," he said.
While he didn't take questions from the throng of reporters, Vick called dogfighting a "terrible thing" and finished by saying: "I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to."
In Atlanta, the Falcons owner Arthur Blankadmitted that releasing Vickis not an option at the momentbecause of salary-cap issues.
However, the Falcons plan onpursuing the $22 million US in bonus money Vickalready received in a $130 million contract he signedon Dec.23,2004.
"We cannot tell you today that Michael is cut from the team," Blank said.
In his written plea, Vick admitted to helping kill six to eight pit bulls and providing money for gambling on the dogfights. Despite his admission, Vick said he did not personally bet or share in the winnings.
Following Friday's plea agreement, Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely and without pay, citing that an association with gamblers can draw a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Vick, 27, was accused of helping to run an interstate dogfighting outfit known as Bad Newz Kennels from 2001 through 2007.
Court documents said that when the kennel's dogs won, the gambling proceeds were generally shared by Vick's three co-defendants — Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips.
Dogs drowned, hanged
Court documents also revealed that Vick and two of his co-defendants killed a number of dogs that did not perform well in practice sessions. The dogs were executed by drowning or hanging.
A federal grand jury indicted Vick on July 17. His attorneys said last week that the quarterback had agreed to plead guilty and accept full responsibility for his actions.
He accepted a plea agreement after his co-defendants agreed to co-operate with prosecutors under their own deals and testify against Vick.
As part of the plea agreement offer to Vick, the government will recommend a sentence on the low end of the federal sentencing guideline range of a year to 18 months.
However, the conspiracy charge is punishable by up to five years in prison. The judge is not bound by any recommendation or by the sentencing guidelines.
Vick will not be sentenced for several months, but in the meantime, sporting goods giant Nike said it had terminated its contract with the player.
Vick, a three-time Pro Bowler who set an NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for 1,039 yards last season.