Taylor's cooperation could help U.S. prove conspiracy vs. Vick

Tony Taylor's expected plea of guilty -- and with it, his future cooperation with prosecutors -- adds to an already impressive array of evidence against Michael Vick in the federal government's dogfighting case against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

Taylor is due to enter his guilty plea at 9 a.m. Monday at U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va. His hearing was added to U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson's docket Friday, a day after he and the other three defendants including Vick pleaded not guilty before the same judge.

Taylor was, according to the federal indictment, in the middle of the dogfighting scheme from the beginning. The indictment says Taylor, along with Vick and co-defendant Quanis Phillips, in 2001 "decided to start a venture aimed at sponsoring American Pit Bull Terriers in dogfighting competitions."

When Taylor describes these conversations with Vick and Phillips, it will be powerful evidence against Vick, establishing the conspiracy and opening the door to a mountain of other evidence against Vick. Taylor can establish the conspiracy all by himself, multiplying Vick's problems as he attempts to answer these charges.

The indictment, issued July 17, charged the four men with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. The maximum punishment is five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

As the scheme grew, according to the indictment, Taylor played a central role. When it was time to build three large sheds to stage fights and to house dogs and equipment, Taylor obtained the necessary permits from the authorities in Surry County. He applied for the building permit for the sheds on May 2, 2003, according to records maintained by Wallace Mavin, the Surry County Building Official, and he paid the necessary fees even though Vick's name was listed as the owner and the applicant. Taylor described himself as Vick's "agent," in the documents. The house and shed, according to applications filed in May 2003, cost $362,000.

Prosecutors claim Taylor, 34, of Hampton, also allegedly helped purchase pit bulls and killed at least two dogs that fared poorly in test fights.

It will be powerful evidence against Vick, putting Vick and his money squarely in the middle of the scheme and its growth and development.

The charges in the indictment also show that Taylor can describe Vick as personally present at fights and at executions of dogs who did not perform well enough for Vick and his cohorts.

Taylor's plea of guilty comes at a critical time. Michael Gill, the assistant
U.S. Attorney leading the prosecution, announced on Thursday that he would file a superceding indictment by the end of next month. The superceding indictment is likely to add charges to the gruesome charges already on file. Taylor made his bargain with the federal prosecutors before they were able to add anything to the charges already filed against him.

In addition to the tactical reasons for his plea, Taylor has been reported to feel that Vick betrayed him. Shortly after the first raid on the Vick fifteen-acre compound on Moonlight Road in Surry County, according to various reports, Vick had Taylor thrown off the property. It was part of Vick's effort to distance himself from the dogfighting operation, an effort that also includes a hasty sale of the property. The sale has not yet been finalized.

Even in the hearings on Thursday, Taylor was separating himself from Vick and the others. Vick, Phillips and Purnell Peace all appeared in court dressed in suits and ties. Taylor showed up in baggy, low slung jeans and a wrinkled yellow shirt. Vick, Phillips and Peace ignored Taylor during the short hearings and never looked at him as they gathered in the courtroom before the hearing began.

ESPN's Kelly Naqi reported that according to sources, Taylor and Vick had a falling out in their relationship about three years ago.

ESPN.com's Lester Munson is a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.