RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Michael Vick, once one of the highest paid players in the National Football League, was sentenced to 23 months in prison for financing a dogfighting ring and helping to kill pit bulls that did not fight aggressively.
MIchael Vick began serving his sentence before he knew what it would be.
Vick's stunning downfall from NFL superstar to disgraced dogfighting defendant culminated Monday in a 90-minute sentencing hearing in federal court in Richmond, Virginia.
Vick was dressed in a black-and-white striped prison suit and apologized to his family and to the judge.
"You need to apologize also to the millions of young people who look up to you," U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson retorted.
"I am willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions," Vick continued, as about a dozen of his friends and family members looked on.
But Judge Hudson appeared to be unmoved. "I'm convinced it was not a momentary lack of judgment on your part. You were a full partner," he told Vick.
The judge added that he wasn't sure Vick had fully accepted reponsiblity for his actions. Supporters, including former baseball great Hank Aaron, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and the pastor of Vick's church sent letters while others called the judge's chambers. Watch how letters from VIPs didn't sway the judge »
Vick, 27, had faced a maximum of five years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of 12 to 18 months.
Animal rights protesters lined up outside the courthouse. Some carried signs with photographs of dogs, while others read "Dogs deserve justice," and "Report dog fighters."
U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said after the hearing that the investigation "exposed a seamy side of our society." He added, "I hope Mr. Vick learned important lessons and that his admission of guilt will speed his rehabilitation." Watch his lawyer say Vick accepts the sentence
Vick and three co-defendants still face trial on state dogfighting charges in Virginia. They are accused of torturing and killing dogs and promoting dogfights -- all felonies that carry five-year maximum sentences.
"This is a difficult day for Michael's family and for a lot of us, including many of our players and fans who have been emotionally invested in Michael over the years," said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
"We sincerely hope that Michael will use this time to continue to focus his efforts on making positive changes in his life, and we wish him well in that regard," Blank said in a statement released by the team.
In his August plea agreement, Vick admitted bankrolling the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting operation on his 15-acre property in rural Surry County in southeastern Virginia.
Vick also admitted providing money for bets on the fights but said he never shared in any winnings.
According to court documents, dogs that failed to show enough fighting spirit or lost matches were executed. Some dogs died by electrocution and others by hanging or drowning.
Co-defendants told prosecutors that Vick assisted in executing the dogs, and that they "executed approximately eight dogs."
After initially denying any involvement, Vick acknowledged participating in killing the dogs in his plea agreement with prosecutors.
The suspended Atlanta Falcons star quarterback publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting operation and unexpectedly turned himself in on November 19 to begin serving his prison term early. He has been held in a state jail in Warsaw, Virginia. Watch Vick's path from gridiron hero to jailhouse disgrace
Last month, Judge Hudson sentenced Purnell Peace, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, to 18 months in prison. Quanis Phillips, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to 21 months.
A third co-defendant, Tony Taylor of Hampton, Virginia will be sentenced Friday. He was the first to plead guilty.
Peace, Phillips and Taylor entered plea agreements last summer under which they agreed to testify against Vick, prompting the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback to enter his own plea agreement a few days later.
Vick agreed to pay more than $928,000 for the care of some 54 pit bulls seized from his property.
Prosecutors also have disclosed the extent of Vick's financial ruin. According to court documents, the Atlanta Falcons are attempting to recoup bonus money from his 10-year, $130 million football contract, Vick is in default on a $1.3 million bank loan for a wine store, and two other banks have filed suits seeking repayment of a $4.5 million in loans and lines of credit.
Vick's home in the Atlanta area is on the market for $4.5 million, prosecutors said in court papers. The Virginia home where the dogfighting operation was based, assessed at nearly $750,000, is on the auction block, according to reports published over the weekend.
Vick's attorneys last month requested a jury trial on the state charges. It is set to begin in April. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Eric Fiegal contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
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