By LARRY O'DELL
Associated Press Writer
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Fallen NFL star Michael Vick told a bankruptcy judge Friday that he became a changed man in prison and is determined to do all the right things upon his release from prison, including repaying his creditors with the millions he hopes to resume earning in professional football.
But after more than three hours of testimony in which Vick laid out what he called his "exit strategy," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Santoro rejected it. Santoro told Vick to draft a new Chapter 11 plan, one with a bit more certainty.
Santoro said there is no guarantee the league will have the 28-year-old player back, and suggested he start on a new plan by considering liquidating one or both of his Virginia homes and three cars he had planned to keep.
A status hearing is set for April 28, but Santoro set no deadline for submission of a new plan.
Vick is pinning his hopes of emerging from financial ruin on returning to the NFL. He remains indefinitely suspended, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not said whether he will reinstate Vick after his July release from the federal penitentiary in Kansas where he is serving a 23-month sentence for a dogfighting conspiracy.
Vick's testimony -- his first extensive public account of his life since entering prison in November 2007 -- offered a glimpse of what he's likely to tell Goodell in his bid for reinstatement.
"I can't live like the old Mike Vick," he said, speaking softly as many of his friends and family members listened in the courtroom.
One of his lawyers, Peter Ginsberg, asked Vick about a note he recently wrote in prison saying he was in good spirits.
"I'm happy where I am because I'm going in a totally different direction," Vick said.
He said his plans include marrying his fiancee next summer and working a $10-an-hour construction job as part of his probation until he can resume his football career.
Vick was once one of the NFL's highest-paid players, but lavish spending and poor investments, coupled with the backlash from his dogfighting case, led to his downfall. Vick filed for bankruptcy in July claiming assets of $16 million and debts of more than $20 million.
Santoro asked Vick about the likelihood of Goodell lifting the suspension. He said he can only hope that "if I do the right thing -- if I keep showing I'm remorseful, show true remorse," the commissioner will give him a second chance. He also told the judge that he thinks he could play in the NFL another 10 to 12 years if reinstated.
Vick said he has accepted full responsibility for a "heinous" and irresponsible act. In addition to bankrolling the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting operation, Vick has admitted helping kill some dogs that fared poorly in test fights.
In addition to a possible NFL salary if Goodell lifts the suspension, Vick has some other income prospects, his lawyers said. He has agreed to a television documentary deal that will pay him $600,000, and Ginsberg hinted of a possible book. He could be transferred to home confinement at his eastern Virginia home by late May, and Vick's agent has said that he hopes the player can return to the NFL by September.
"There are serious and respected people in the literary arts world working on Mr. Vick's behalf," he said. He later refused to elaborate when questioned by reporters.
Vick's attorneys want him to stay in Virginia until the April 28 hearing, but Santoro said he doesn't have the authority to authorize that. He said he'd consider requiring that Vick appear at that hearing. Vick had been staying at a regional jail in Virginia in the days before this week's hearing.
In court, lawyers also questioned Vick at length about his tangled finances. He said he gave advisers too much leeway in handling his money, acknowledging that he never balanced a checkbook or reconciled a bank statement, and he spent freely with debit and credit cards. He vowed not to make those mistakes again.
The judge commended Vick for wanting to take charge of his finances by himself, but said it had taken months of accountants, trustees and lawyers working to unravel his assets in the first place.
"No one is good at everything, but the fact, Mr. Vick, is you are perhaps extraordinary at your chosen profession, but that does not translate into financial sophistication," Santoro said.
He also commended Vick for wanting to provide for his children, fiancee and mother, who live in his two houses in Virginia, but suggested Vick buy a house more within his means.
"You can't be everything to everybody or you'll end up being nothing to nobody," Santoro said.
An attorney for Vick's former agent, who has a $4.6 million judgment against Vick, questioned him about improper withdrawals from a pension fund. The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit over the withdrawals last week but has already reached a settlement in which Vick will restore some of the money.
Vick admitted withdrawing $150,000 even after his lawyers had told him earlier withdrawals were improper.
"I did it out of desperation," Vick said.
Keion Carpenter, Vick's former college and pro teammate, said outside the courtroom that plenty of other NFL players have trouble managing their finances, although Vick's is an extreme case.
"As an athlete, we all suffer through these problems," he said. "It's a subject I hope the NFL will address so this stops."
Ginsberg said outside court that Vick was serious about getting his finances -- and his life -- back on track.
"He cares about what's going on," Ginsberg said. "He cares about making amends for what he's done. He cares about getting back to his family and to football."
Associated Press Writer Dena Potter contributed to this report.