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Feds get involved in Vick dogfighting case

As car after car -- and one evidence collection truck belonging to the Virginia State Police -- darted out of the fenced yard surrounding Michael Vick's property, the officers inside gave barely a glance to reporters waiting across the street.

SURRY, Va. (June 7, 2007) -- As car after car -- and one evidence collection truck belonging to the Virginia State Police -- darted out of the fenced yard surrounding Michael Vick's property, the officers inside gave barely a glance to reporters waiting across the street.

Pulling the gate closed, though, one of the last men to leave late June 7 said investigators had done some digging and that he didn't expect to be back anytime soon.

"I hope I never see this place again," the man said, refusing to identify himself.

On a day when a search warrant a Surry County sheriff's deputy drew up expired unexecuted, federal law enforcement officials showed up with one of their own for the NFL star's property, indicating that they are taking over a slow-moving probe into possible dog fighting.

It was a development that left Gerald G. Poindexter, the commonwealth's attorney who would have been charged with prosecuting the case, dumbfounded -- and more than a little insulted.

"What is foreign to me is the federal government getting into a dog-fighting case," Poindexter said in a telephone interview. "I know it's been done, but what's driving this? Is it this boy's celebrity? Would they have done this if it wasn't Michael Vick?"

Poindexter said he was "absolutely floored" when federal officials told him at just about the time the search began that they were moving in. He said he believes he and Sheriff Harold D. Brown handled the investigation properly and wonders how it was elevated to a federal case.

But it sure looked like one at the massive two-story house on Moonlight Road.

More than a dozen vehicles went to the home early in the afternoon and investigators searched inside before turning their attention to the area behind the house. That's where officials found dozens of dogs in late April -- some in kennels, and some tied up with chains -- and evidence that suggested someone at the home was involved in a dog-fighting operation.

With news helicopters circling overhead and confirming that investigators were digging with shovels, they were only seen removing a cardboard box and a large sheet of plywood.

State police assisted the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. attorney's office in executing the warrant, Virginia State Police Sgt. D.S. Carr said, declining to comment further.

Surry County officials had secured a search warrant May 25 based on an informant's information that as many as 30 dogs were buried on the property. The warrant never was executed because Poindexter had issues with the way it was worded. He said another was in the works.

No more.

"If they've made a judgment that we're not acting prudently and with dispatch based on what we have, they've not acting very wisely," Poindexter said.

Before the events of June 7, Poindexter said the investigative team was planning to meet soon to go over the evidence it has collected, to assess its reliability and make sure it had all the experts needed to help make its next search most helpful to the investigation.

Now, the case has gotten bigger again, and it's somebody else's.

"There's a larger thing here, and it has nothing to do with any breach of protocol," Poindexter said, still trying to rationalize where the federal government fits in. "There's something awful going on here. I don't know if it's racial. I don't know what it is."

Vick and Poindexter are black.

Messages left at Brown's office were not returned, and a dispatcher said he left for the day at around 4 p.m. An after-hours call to Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward, was not returned.

It was during an April 25 drug raid on the home that authorities seized 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment that told investigators they'd uncovered a dog-fighting operation.

A search warrant affidavit said some of the dogs were tethered with "heavy logging-type chains" attached to car axles that allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact, one of myriad findings on the property that suggested a dog-fighting operation.

Other items included a rape stand, used to hold non-receptive dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified to be used by dogs; a "pry bar" used to open the clamped-down mouths of dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting the authorities believe was used in dog fights.

Poindexter said that during his own inspection of the property and its several outbuildings, he saw a floor in one building stained with what appeared to be spattered blood.

Vick, a registered dog breeder, has claimed he rarely visits the home and was unaware it could be involved in a criminal enterprise. He also blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity early on, but has said since his lawyers have advised him to say nothing.

Vick's cousin, Davon Boddie, was living at the home at the time of the raids.

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