Federal officials file for custody of 53 pit bulls from Vick property

By Tim McGlone, Linda McNatt & Dave Forster – The Virginian-Pilot , July 10, 2007


In an effort to obtain custody of the 53 pit bulls taken from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s property in April, federal officials have laid out in court papers details of an extensive interstate dogfighting ring they say was based at Vick’s Surry County property.

Legal experts say the civil action was the quickest way to get control of the dogs, which could be considered evidence of a crime. It also is a way to keep the dogs safe, experts said.

“It’s significantly faster than dealing with a criminal charge. There’s no grand jury to deal with,” said Virginia Beach attorney L. Steven Emmert.

“The prosecutor simply files suit, and once a judge renders relief, the marshals have the authority to seize the dogs immediately,” he said.

As of late Monday afternoon, a federal judge had not acted on the seizure request. The dogs were still being kept at various animal shelters throughout the region.

The federal court papers filed last week do not say where federal agents plan to take the dogs, but the animals could stay in the various shelters, with the federal government taking over payments for their care, according to federal law.

Dogs seized from fighting ventures often become targets of theft. Some dogs can fetch as much as $30,000, said Alexander Taylor who, as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond , prosecuted a dog fighting case this year. “They are very valuable, trust me,” he said.

The federal government could use its resources for measures to increase security, such as adding a guard, said John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal cruelty issues for The Humane Society of the United States .

“There’s a lot of people out there who could get street cred (credibility) by stealing a Vick dog,” Goodman said. “Of course, they could get a lot of jail time, too.”

Meanwhile, Surry Commonwealth ‘s Attorney Gerald Poindexter, who was on vacation Friday when federal agents searched the Vick property for the second time in a month, said county investigators would be glad to share evidence the Sheriff’s Department collected when 1915 Moonlight Road was first searched.

“If they want it, they could certainly use it,” Poindexter said.

Poindexter has no plans to halt his local investigation. Surry County ‘s next grand jury, when Poindexter could seek indictments, is July 24. He said he won’t go “to the grand jury empty-handed.”

Neither Vick, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons and a Newport News native, nor anyone else is named in the court papers, and no one has been charged. Vick has denied involvement in any illegal activity. His attorney refused to comment Monday.

A local investigation began in April when a drug search involving Vick’s cousin, who lived at the home on the property, turned up the 53 dogs and paraphernalia often used in dogfighting – treadmills, pharmaceuticals, a bite stick and bloodied carpet, among other items.

Federal agents first searched Vick’s property on June 7, then spent more than eight hours Friday digging on the property. A source said they found more than 10 dog carcasses buried. Some of the dogs who lost fights or were found to be unfit for fighting were killed, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond .

Authorities allege the dogfighting operation called “Bad Newz Kennels ” has been operating out of the Vick property since 2002.

Federal law prohibits interstate transport of animals used for fighting. If convicted of the felony, the maximum penalties are three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.