(CNN) -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick faces criminal charges and a possible prison sentence for allegedly participating in an enterprise that trained pit bulls for death matches in which spectators bet on the outcome, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Vick, 27, and three associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia, on a conspiracy count alleging they bought and sponsored dogs in an animal fighting venture and traveled across state lines to participate in illegal activity, including gambling.
According to the indictment, dogs that didn't show enough fighting spirit, or that lost matches, were put to death by a variety of methods, including shooting, drowning, hanging and electrocution. Prosecutors allege that on one occasion earlier this year, Vick participated in killing eight dogs.
A National Football League spokesman said the allegations against Vick would be reviewed under the NFL's personal conduct policy.
"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," said spokesman Brian McCarthy. "We will continue to closely monitor developments in this case and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities."
If convicted of both portions of the conspiracy charge, Vick could face six years in prison and a $350,000 fine, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
No arrest warrants have been issued, and Vick and the other defendants -- Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, Georgia; and Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton, Virginia -- have not been taken into custody, said Jim Rybicki, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg.
A judge is expected to inform Vick and the others of the charges against them Wednesday and make arrangements for them to turn themselves in, Rybicki said.
Vick, a standout at Virginia Tech who was the first player chosen in the 2001 NFL draft, is one of pro football's highest-profile and highest paid players. In 2004, he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons.
The dogfighting investigation began in April, when authorities found 54 pit bulls on property Vick owns in Smithfield, Virginia, about 30 miles west of the Norfolk area where he grew up.
There was no immediate comment from Vick on the indictment. He had previously said that while he had a kennel operation on the property, he had no involvement in, or knowledge of, a dogfighting ring.
But the indictment issued Tuesday charges Vick was intimately involved in the operation, known as "Bad Newz Kennels," and that he bought the Smithfield property for $34,000 for the purpose of going into business with Peace, Phillips and Taylor.
Between 2001 and April 2007, Vick and his associates bought and trained pit bulls and hosted dogfights at the property, and dogs were also taken to locations in at least six other states to participate in fights, prosecutors said.
The owners of the winning dogs collected purses that ran into the thousands of dollars, and spectators also placed side bets on the outcome, prosecutors said. After one of the "Bad Newz" dogs lost a fight in March 2003, Vick personally paid $23,000 to the winning dog's owner, who is now a cooperating witness for the prosecution, the indictment said.
According to the indictment, an unidentified associate from Bad Newz Kennels admonished another participant at a dogfight who yelled out Vick's name during an event in the fall of 2003 -- a participant who is also now cooperating with prosecutors.
The indictment also alleges that Vick and his associates "rolled" some of their dogs -- testing them in short fights to determine how well they might fight. Dogs that failed the test were killed, prosecutors said.
While most of the dog killings noted in the indictment were allegedly carried out by the other defendants, Vick himself participated in the killings of eight dogs in April, according to the indictment. The animals were killed "by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground," the indictment said. E-mail to a friend
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