In his first extensive news media interview, Tony Taylor, the first co-defendant to plead guilty in the Michael Vick dogfighting case, said he cooperated with federal authorities because he thought he was being set up to take the fall for Vick's dog-fighting operation in Surry County.

"No one returned my calls, so I thought they were trying to put the whole thing on me," Taylor said of his former colleagues.

Shortly after Taylor, a Newport News native, agreed to testify for the federal government in the 2007 case, the other three defendants — Vick, Pernell Peace and Quantis L. Phillips — reached plea agreements.

They all served time in federal prison, ranging from two months for Taylor, 37, to nearly two years for Vick, once the highest paid player in the National Football League.

Taylor — who split with the group in 2004 — said he was particularly concerned when he couldn't even get answers from Peace, his first cousin. The result, he said, is that he has been unfairly labeled.

"I didn't snitch," Taylor said. "I hadn't talked to anybody in three years. So what was I supposed to do? I did what I had to do — bottom line."

Vick said Saturday: "Tony Taylor never tried to contact me. There was never any contact between the two parties."

C.J. Reamon, Vick's personal assistant, said: "Thanks to Tony Taylor, Mike is on a good path right now," working with the Humane Society in a national campaign against dogfighting.

"We thank him for bringing the operation to a halt," Reamon said. "Thanks to him, a lot of kids are getting help."

Since Taylor's release from prison, he has reunited with his wife and moved to Charlotte, N.C., where he has worked in construction, but says he is currently unemployed.

He said he could no longer keep silent after the recent segment of "The Michael Vick Project," the TV documentary show on BET in which Vick identifies Taylor "as the guy that taught me everything... the guy that had all the pit bulls."

Taylor said people in Charlotte recognized him from a photo in the segment, and his "phone has been ringing off the hook," with some people asking why he led Michael Vick astray.

"My daughter told me: 'Daddy, I don't know if you can come to my school anymore.' "

Taylor said Vick was already exposed to dog-fighting and that he merely helped Vick set-up the high-end dog-fighting operation and then ran the operation.

Taylor said they all had been into dog-fighting around their Newport News Ridley Park neighborhood — as Vick explains in the 10-part series.

Taylor said he was ousted from the operation and from Vick's inner circle shortly after a dispute that started with Vick's chain and medallion being taken, or borrowed — depending on differing versions of the story — at a Newport News night club.

Taylor said he was then accused of allowing Phillips to get robbed — which he said never occurred.

"To this day, I have no reason why me and Mike fell out."

"I thought we had a great relationship," Taylor said.

"I often wondered why Mike didn't say, 'Let me call 'Tee' and see what he's thinking?' He just ran with what everybody said."

Taylor said he believes his name surfaced in the case because his former partners neglected to take his name off the kennel license for Bad Newz Kennels after he split with them in 2004.

Taylor also complained that on "The Michael Vick Project," Vick is not saying who ran the operation after 2004.

"Why am I the only bad guy?" Taylor asked. "I'm trying to put my life back together just like he is. And I don't have the cushion of an NFL contract. If he's going to tell the truth, tell it all."

Reamon said the Vick camp "is not going to get into a tit-for-tat with Tony Taylor."