Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three other men were indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday on conspiracy charges tied to a dog-fighting operation.
They were charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fight venture, according to documents from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia.
If convicted on the travel and interstate commerce portion, each faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conviction on the animal-fighting part of the charges could bring each one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia, also charged Purnell Peace, 35, Quanis Phillips, 28, and Tony Taylor, 34.
The NFL, which has been cracking down on illegal off-the-field behavior with suspensions, said it will review the case under the league's personal conduct policy.
"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," the league said in a statement.
"We will continue to closely monitor developments in this case, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal.
"Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts."
They were involved in an animal fighting enterprise known as "Bad Newz Kennels" based out of a property owned by Vick in Smithfield, Virginia, from early 2001 through April 2007, according to the indictment.
The defendants used the property for housing and training pit bulls used in dog fights, court papers said.
The indictment charges that people and dogs traveled from states including South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas and Alabama to participate.
Purses ranged into thousands of dollars for a fight that would last until the death or surrender of a dog. Sometimes the losing dog was put to death by drowning, hanging, gunshot or electrocution, court papers said.
Vick, 27, a strong-armed six-year veteran of the NFL and one of the league's most dynamic players, has made the Pro Bowl three times.
"We are disappointed that one of our players -- and therefore the Falcons -- is being presented to the public in a negative way, and we apologize to our fans and the community for that," the team said in a statement.
"Obviously, we are disturbed by today's news from Virginia. However, we are prepared to deal with it, and we will do the right thing for our club as the legal process plays out."
The indictment says the defendants crossed state lines to participate in dog fights in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey.
It also says they "tested" their pit bulls to determine if they were good fighters, and those deemed not good enough were sometimes killed.