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NFLPA: Vick shouldn't return $ to Falcons + Vick co-defendants sentenced

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Union fights for Vick to keep nearly $20M

November 30, 2007

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Michael Vick should be allowed to keep nearly $20 million in bonus money even though his NFL career is on hold for his role in a dogfighting operation, a lawyer for the players' union argued Friday.

The NFL Players Association asked a federal judge to overturn a special master's decision that Vick should forfeit the bonus money because of his guilty plea. The former Atlanta Falcons star faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10.

Dogfighting wasn't the issue at Friday's hearing. Instead, the arguments turned on interpretations of the NFL collective bargaining agreement.

Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler argued that Vick's "roster bonus" should be treated the same as a "performance bonus," which can't be forfeited under the collective bargaining agreement.

But Gregg Levy, representing the NFL, said the roster bonus should be treated like a "signing bonus allocation," which could be forfeited.

District Judge David Doty, who has handled cases involving the collective bargaining agreement for nearly 20 years, compared interpreting the relevant section of the agreement to "alchemy" but didn't indicate how or when he might rule.

Outside the courtroom, players union chief Gene Upshaw said the union wasn't defending Vick's actions by pursuing the case.

"This is not about Michael Vick. This is not about dogfighting. This is about interpretation of the contract and what it means," he said.

Special master Stephen B. Burbank ruled last month that the Falcons were entitled to recover $19.97 million in bonuses paid from 2004 through this year. The Falcons argued that Vick used proceeds from a $130 million contract he signed in 2004 to finance his illicit activities.

Any money recovered would be credited to Atlanta's future salary cap.

Separately, two of Vick's co-defendants were sentenced Friday in Virginia to 18 months and 21 months in prison on federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace each had faced the same maximum penalty that Vick faces.

Vick's troubles started after authorities in Surry County, Va., raided his property and seized dozens of dogs and equipment associated with dogfighting. He eventually admitted bankrolling the operation and participating in the killing of eight dogs.

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Two Vick co-defendants sentenced

Posted: November 30, 2007

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Two of fallen NFL star Michael Vick's co-defendants were sentenced Friday to 18 months and 21 months in prison on federal dogfighting conspiracy charges.

Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach could have received up to five years in prison -- the same maximum Vick faces when he is sentenced Dec. 10.

Peace, Phillips and Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty last summer and agreed to testify against Vick, prompting the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback to enter his own plea agreement a few days later. Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 14. "You may have thought this was sporting, but it was very callous and cruel," U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson told Phillips, who received the longer sentence.

Sentencing guidelines called for punishments of 12 to 18 months for Peace and 18 to 24 months for Phillips, who has a more extensive criminal record. Both men also were fined $250 and will be placed on three years' probation after their release.

Prosecutors recommended sentences at the low end of the range because of the co-defendants' cooperation. But with Vick attorney Lawrence Woodward watching in the packed courtroom, Hudson said he felt sentences on the high end were appropriate because of the nature of the crime.

Hudson told Peace that he was concerned because a pre-sentencing report quoted Peace as saying he saw he nothing wrong with dogfighting.

"I am very sorry," Peace told the judge as he tried to fight back tears and family members in the courtroom softly wept.

Phillips declined an offer to address the court. His attorney, Jeffrey Swartz, later told reporters Phillips was "nervous and decided not to speak," so he did the talking for him.

Swartz told the judge Phillips was remorseful and would be willing to "help address the issue of dogfighting" as part of his probation.

"That's going to have to flow from the heart, not an order from me," Hudson said.

Swartz also explained how Phillips got involved in the enterprise, tracing it to when Phillips moved to Vick's hometown of Newport News at age 10.

"He grew up around people for whom dogfighting was an accepted and acceptable activity," Swartz told Hudson. "It was a way for young men to prove themselves."

Swartz said he was not trying to excuse the behavior, which Phillips now realizes was wrong.

All four men also face state charges, and Swartz told Hudson that "I still have to shake my head and wonder a little bit about the federal government's decision to prosecute this case."

Federal prosecutors refused to comment as they left the courthouse, where several protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gathered holding posters with pictures of injured dogs.

Woodward and Taylor's attorney, Claire Cardwell, also left without answering reporters' questions.

According to court papers, Vick financed virtually the entire "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise at his 15-acre property in Surry County in rural southeastern Virginia and participated in executing several underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other means.

Vick publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting operation and turned himself in Nov. 19 to begin serving his prison term early. He is being held in a state jail in Warsaw, Va.

The case began in April when a drug investigation of a Vick relative led authorities to the Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia.

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