Thursday, May 31, 2007
Source: Vick probe receiving increased attention from feds
By Len Pasquarelli
Two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation have told ESPN.com they believe there is sufficient evidence to indict Michael Vick in connection with a suspected dog fighting ring that was run on property the Falcons quarterback owned in Virginia.
The sources, however, cautioned this week that, based on the current evidence, it might be difficult to successfully prosecute Vick, who has denied knowledge of dog fighting at the property in Surry County.
"There is probably enough there to bring a bill [of indictment]," one source said, "but how some of [the evidence] would play out at trial, or if it even reached a trial ... I just don't know. These kinds of prosecutions are tough. There are some holes, definitely, and that's why [investigators] are digging for more information. You want more than just smoke. You're always looking for the smoking gun.
"I mean, what you think you know and what you know you know, and what you can prove to other people you know ... well, they aren't always the same. But this is a fluid thing, so we'll see where it goes."
On Wednesday, Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter told ESPN that he recently received a call from a person he deemed credible and that the informant gave him information regarding the ongoing investigation. Television station WAVY of Portsmouth, Va., reported Wednesday that informants have come forward who have said they can link Vick to dog fighting.
"We have people who are volunteering to make those allegations," Poindexter said. Asked whether there was evidence that placed Vick at dog fights, Poindexter said, "Yes."
Poindexter told ESPN's Kelly Naqi that he is convinced dog fighting took place on the property, saying he is continuing to pursue a strong case.
"If he did anything, he won't get away with it, if we can prove it. But it's not easy," Poindexter said. "That's why we're moving carefully, slowly. We're trying to build a strong case."
Poindexter referenced a 2000 case that involved dog fighting and that was dismissed because of Fourth Amendment issues. He said he will forward affidavits to the state attorney's appellate division to have officials there review it in terms of its admissibility for court. He cited the same Fourth Amendment issues as the reason he did not permit officials to move forward with a warrant to search the Vick property earlier this week.
One ESPN.com source acknowledged that at least one federal agency beyond the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was represented at a recent meeting with local investigators, has taken "a pretty serious interest" in the investigation in recent days.
One of the sources has firsthand knowledge of the evidence that was presented May 21 during a two-hour meeting that included Poindexter and a representative from the USDA. The other was apprised frequently of what is included in the evidence but has not yet reviewed it directly.
Both sources were reluctant to discuss the evidence in detail. But one said that, beyond forensic evidence and also the dog-training paraphernalia that has been shown in various television reports, there are also "some documents" that suggest dog fighting was taking place. Queried about the documents, which were seized from the property, the source would say only that although "there is paperwork" that includes Vick's name or what are said to be references to him, it appears none bears his signature.
"There are some dots," the source said, "but it's putting them all in a straight line that's been a challenge. There's a lot of stuff to look at and consider. But preponderance doesn't always equal proof, so they're trying to dot I's and cross T's."
Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward, did not return messages.
On Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Poindexter could convene a special grand jury to consider the case. The regular grand jury is not scheduled to meet until July 24, Surry County clerk of courts Gail P. Clayton said. The grand jury meets on the fourth Tuesday of every other month, beginning in January.
The Journal-Constitution reported that two people claiming to have information that might aid the investigation have contacted law enforcement authorities and that Poindexter was performing due diligence on the background of one of the two. Both of the sources who spoke to ESPN.com said claims that people have possible information that might strengthen the case is consistent with their understanding of the progress being made.
Those people, their credibility and the value of the information they claim to have are being scrutinized.
"It would help [the case], obviously, if someone stepped up with something concrete," one ESPN.com source said. "A figure in a shadow, with a Darth Vader-type voice, that's fine, but sooner or later someone has to put their hand on a Bible in front of a jury."
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday interviewed a confidential informant, speaking on camera with his face hidden and his voice disguised, who alleged Vick is a "heavyweight" in dog fighting circles. He claimed that Vick owned and fought dogs and bet heavily on them.
The pace of the investigation and the timing of any possible indictment against embattled Vick, who is playing under a $130 million contract and is the face of Atlanta's franchise, could be critical to his plans for the 2007 season and to any potential sanctions by the NFL. If a grand jury in Surry County does not meet until late July, that would be right about the time Vick and the Falcons are to report to training camp.
Some observers believe there might be enough potential maneuvers to delay a trial -- if the case reaches that point -- until after the season. Such trials typically have lasted eight months or more. The NFL, which has offered the services of its security department to assist local authorities in the investigation, continues to monitor the proceedings closely.
It is not known whether commissioner Roger Goodell would consider sanctions against Vick if he is merely indicted. Goodell emphasized last week, at the NFL's spring meeting in Nashville, that the recent severe suspensions of Tennessee cornerback Pacman Jones and Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry were based in part on their status as repeat offenders of the league's personal conduct policy.
It would help [the case], obviously, if someone stepped up with something concrete. A figure in a shadow, with a Darth Vader-type voice, that's fine, but sooner or later someone has to put their hand on a Bible in front of a jury.
Law enforcement official
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.