RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, one of the National Football League’s most marketable players, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to federal charges of sponsoring a dog-fighting operation.
Vick answered the judge respectfully during a 15-minute hearing but did not respond to questions as he entered and left the courtroom. His three co-defendants also pleaded not guilty.
Vick and the three others were involved in an interstate dog-fighting enterprise known as “Bad Newz Kennels” from early 2001 through April 2007, a grand jury indictment said. It said the enterprise was based at a property in Smithfield, Virginia, that was owned by Vick.
Prosecutors charge that dogs sometimes fought to the death on Vick’s property and that some losing dogs had been shot dead, drowned, hung or electrocuted.
They also accused Vick and his associates of shooting dogs that failed to meet expectations in tests of their fighting ability.
Atlanta’s training camp opened on Thursday but the 27-year-old Vick, a three-time All-Pro player, was in court to fight the felony charges. He faces a possible six years in prison and $350,000 in fines if convicted.
The judge set a November 26 trial date for Vick and the others charged with involvement in the dog-fighting operation. All four were allowed to remain free pending the trial but were required to surrender their passports and live at their primary homes.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week suspended Vick and ordered him not to attend the Falcons’ preseason workouts until the league reviews the case.
Although small for a quarterback at 6 feet, 215 pounds (97.5 kg), the left-handed Vick is considered among the league’s most exciting players, with a combination of quickness, agility and a strong arm.
Critics say Vick has had an up-and-down professional career since leaving Virginia Tech university and has failed to transform the Falcons into consistent winners.
Vick has had several well-publicized problems since entering the NFL as the number one choice in the 2001 draft of collegiate players.
He made an obscene gesture to jeering fans in Atlanta after a 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints in 2006 and was fined
Earlier this year, Vick had a water bottle seized at a Miami airport that contained a substance in a hidden compartment. The substance was later found not to contain drugs, and no charges were filed.
Despite his dazzling moves on the field, corporate sponsors are jittery about Vick’s actions off of it.
Athletic apparel giant Nike said it would delay the release of the quarterback’s fifth signature shoe called the Zoom Vick V slated to ship to stores on August 1.
Charged along with Vick were Purnell Peace, 35, Quanis Phillips, 28, and Tony Taylor, 34.