RICHMOND, Virginia (AFP) — Former American football star Michael Vick turned himself over to US marshals here Monday to begin serving a prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy.
Vick, a National Football League star with the Atlanta Falcons before the dogfighting scandal ruined his career, and three co-defendants pleaded guilty to one count of interstate travel to aid illegal gambling and dogfighting.
Vick decided to begin serving his sentence even before judge Henry Hudson imposes punishment upon Vick on December 10 at his scheduled hearing.
"From the beginning, Mr. Vick has accepted responsibility for his actions and his self-surrender further demonstrates that acceptance," Vick's attorney, Billy Martin said in a prepared statement.
"Michael wants to again apologize to everyone who has been hurt in this matter and he thanks all of the people who have offered him and his family prayers and support during this time."
By serving Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday in prison, Vick might give himself more time to prepare for a future NFL season, provided he receives reinstatement from league officials and interest from clubs.
Vick faces up to five years in federal prison but sentencing guidelines that Hudson will consider when rendering his decision upon a sentence suggest Vick would serve 12 to 18 months behind bars.
Should Vick serve 18 months, he would be out two months ahead of the start of training camps for the 2009 season rather than a month or less had he waited to begin serving time after the sentencing hearing.
State charges of animal cruelty are also possible against Vick, who owned the area that served as a kennel where dogs were trained to fight.
Vick signed a 10-year, 130 million-dollar contract with the Falcons in December of 2004, although an arbitrator ruled earlier this month that he owes the Falcons 19.97 million dollars in signing bonuses for violating his contract.
Vick admitted sharing responsibility in the slayings of six to eight dogs who had performed poorly in fights, including deaths by hanging, drowning and beating that sparked outrage across the United States.
"I accept the responsibility for my actions and what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it," Vick said on August 27 when he issued his guilty plea.
"I made a mistake in using bad judgement. Dogfighting is a terrible thing and I do reject it."
Vick confessed to bankrolling the dogfight operation but said he did not wager on the fights.
When the scandal became public just before the start of NFL training camps in July, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned Vick from joining the Falcons until the dogfight affair was settled.
Vick had denied any wrongdoing but in the wake of his reversal, Vick remains suspended without pay.
"Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible," Goodell wrote. "Your team, the NFL, and NFL fans have all been hurt by your actions."
Vick, 27, was a quarterback known for his ability to threaten defenses by throwing or running the ball.
In six NFL seasons with the Falcons, Vick completed 930 of 1,730 passes for 11,505 yards and 71 touchdowns with 52 interceptions and ran 529 times for 3,859 yards and 21 touchdowns.
In 2006, Vick had his best rushing season, carrying 123 times for 1,039 yards and two touchdowns, and second-best passing campaign, completing 204 of 388 passes for 2,474 yards and 20 touchdowns.
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