Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly participating in a dog fighting ring.
The indictment, filed in Richmond, Va., Tuesday afternoon, alleges Vick and three other defendants violated federal laws barring competitive dog fighting, and obtained and trained pit bulls for the purpose of fighting. The charges also state the venture was based in a Smithfield, Va., property, but that the defendants conducted the enterprise across state lines.
Arraignment and a bond hearing for Vick and the other defendants is set for July 26 in Richmond, Va. – the same day the Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to start preseason training in Georgia.
Investigators said Vick purchased the property at 1915 Moonlight Road in June 2001, and that the illicit business started early that year and continued through April 2007.
Vick and the others "used this property as the main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dog fighting venture and [for] hosting dogfights," according to the indictment.
Vick, along with co-defendants Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Va., Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Tony Taylor of Hampton, Va., allegedly ran a dog fighting venture called Bad Newz Kennels on the property. It was there, investigators said, that they housed and trained pit bulls for dog fights, which were sometimes held on the property.
The defendants, the indictment alleged, also traveled across state lines with their dogs, not only entering them in fights in other Virginia cities but in other states along the eastern seaboard.
Dog owners reportedly brought their animals from the Carolinas, Maryland, New York, Texas, Alabama and other states to compete in the illegal matches. The owner of the winning dog would receive a cash prize. Those purses ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Spectators and other dog owners were also allowed to bet on the fights.
But the dogs involved did not receive prize fighter treatment. Prosecutors alleged that the losing dogs were sometimes executed -- drowned, hanged, shot or electrocuted.
One female pit bull was entered into a match around March 2003. "The purse for the dog fight was established at approximately 13,000 [dollars] per side, for a total of approximately 26,000," the indictment stated.
The Bad Newz Kennels dog, however, lost the fight. "Peace, after consulting with Vick about the losing female pit bull's condition, executed the losing dog by wetting the dog down with water and electrocuting the animal," the indictment stated.
Dogs that were found during training sessions to be poor fighters were sometimes put to death as well.
One of those training sessions took place in April 2007, according to officials. Eight dogs that didn't make the cut following that meeting were allegedly "executed" by Peace, Phillips and Vick "by various methods, including hanging, drowning, and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."
The charges for crossing state lines to conduct the venture could bring a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each defendant. The charges related to the operation of the animal fighting ring could result in one year in prison, a $100,000 fine or both.
The indictment also seeks recovery of any property obtained as a result of money made on the venture.
Larry Woodward, Vick's attorney, did not return a call from ABC News Tuesday evening.
The league, which is in the middle of an off-season disciplinary crackdown on players who get in trouble of the field, responded quickly to the indictment against Vick, suggesting the quarterback would not face league punishment until his case is resolved in court.
"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."
The Atlanta Falcons organization also issued a statement Tuesday night.
"This situation has been troubling to many people, including our fans, during the last few months," the statement read. "With today's news, our club and team will continue to be tested as Michael works through the legal process toward a conclusion."
The team expressed disappointment that a Falcon player would be presented to the public in such a negative light and apologized, but also emphasized the need to focus on the upcoming 2007 season.
"Obviously, we are disturbed by today's news from Virginia," the statement read. "However, we are prepared to deal with it, and we will do the right thing for our club as the legal process plays out.
"We have a season to prepare for and training camp opens next week. Our plan is to continue to do everything we can to support our players and coaches."