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Vick to plead guilty to dogfighting charges

RICHMOND, Va. - Michael Vick agreed Monday to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, a deal that leaves the Atlanta Falcons quarterback facing up to 18 months in prison and puts his NFL career in jeopardy.

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Vick be sentenced to between a year and 18 months in prison, according to a government official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the terms have not yet been made final.

That would be a higher penalty than is usually recommended for first-time convicts and reflects an attempt by the government to show that animal abusers will receive more than a slap on the wrist for their crimes, the official said.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson will have the final say on how much time Vick will ultimately spend in jail.

Vick's plea hearing is Monday.

Defense attorney Billy Martin said Vick reached an agreement with federal prosecutors after consulting with his family during the weekend.

'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,' Martin said in a statement. 'Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.'

The NFL noted in a statement that Vick's admission wasn't in line with what he told commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after he was initially charged.

'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 NFL said.

The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL's own investigation wraps up.

The Falcons said they were 'certainly troubled' by news of the plea but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell's request.

In a telephone interview with the AP, Martin said Vick is paying a high price for allowing old friends to influence his behavior, but he emphasized that his client takes full responsibility.

'There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with,' Martin said. 'He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process.'

The lawyer said salvaging Vick's NFL career was never part of the discussions.

'Football is not the most important thing in Michael Vick's life,' he said. 'He wants to get his life back on track.'

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. He had pleaded not guilty last month and vowed to clear his name at a November trial.

The plea deal was announced just as a new grand jury began meeting. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in the works, but Vick's plea most likely means he will not face additional charges.

Three of Vick's original co-defendants already have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach signed statements saying the 27-year-old quarterback participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.

Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty last month, also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating funds for his 'Bad Newz Kennels' operation in rural Virginia, not far from Vick's hometown of Newport News.

The gambling allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Vick's Atlanta attorney, Daniel Meachum, told the AP that Vick is taking a chance with his guilty plea as far as his career is concerned because there have been no discussions with the league in recent days.

'There's no promise or even a request of the league to make a promise,' Meachum said.

Meachum said the plea deal involves only the federal case. He said he doesn't know if there have been any discussions about resolving Virginia state charges that may be brought against Vick.

The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in Surry County found 66 dogs, some of them injured, and items typically used in dogfighting. They included a 'rape stand' that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a 'breakstick' used to pry open a dog's mouth.

Vick contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely visited. The former Virginia Tech star also blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged to be more scrupulous.

The July 17 indictment said dogs that lost fights or fared poorly in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging, electrocution or other brutal means. The grisly details fueled public protests against Vick and cost him some of his lucrative endorsement deals.

Associated Press Writers Harry R. Weber and Doug Gross in Atlanta and Michael Felberbaum in Richmond contributed to this report.