Lewis' probation obligation includes 36 long-distance calls over one year

Fulton County farms out cases to private firm

June 07, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

When Ray Lewis returns to Maryland from his aborted trial in Atlanta, he'll join more than 97,000 people in the state - including crack addicts, petty thieves and defrauders of the elderly - to be on parole or probation.

But he won't be treated the same as the Maryland masses who have done wrong.

Lewis' probation obligations amount to 28 long-distance telephone calls over a year to counselors at a private company, informing them whether he has violated the terms by using alcohol or drugs.

That, and he must pay $50 a month probation costs and hold on to his $6-million-plus-a-year job with the Ravens.

The counselors will not test him for drugs or alcohol.

"It's no preferential treatment," said Lewis attorney Ronald M. Cherry of Baltimore. "Our plea negotiations had nothing to do with how the probation monitor would choose to monitor the probation."

Lewis could have faced far tighter scrutiny after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. But if there's a place to be convicted of a misdemeanor and not be subjected to strict probation obligations, Atlanta is it.

That's because all Fulton County misdemeanor probation cases are farmed out to a private company.

Typically, Maryland residents convicted of crimes in other states are monitored by probation officers near their home. Maryland officials had expected to be responsible for monitoring Lewis. Lucky for him they aren't.

Had state probation officials been in charge of enforcing the order that forbids Lewis from using alcohol or drugs, he would have been subjected to twice-weekly urinalysis screenings plus two meetings with a probation officer each month.

Instead, BI Inc. of Boulder, Colo., will monitor Lewis for the Fulton County court. Only in the most extreme cases would its counselors test Lewis.

"If he happened to be in the Atlanta office and happened to be intoxicated, we might issue a drug or alcohol test," said BI spokeswoman Anita Pedersen. "Otherwise, that's just not going to happen."

The company, which monitors about 66,000 offenders for jurisdictions across the country, will expect a call from Lewis twice a week for the first two months of his parole, she said.

If he makes those calls, keeps his job, pays $50 a month and has made arrangements to repay prosecution costs, he will need to phone in only twice a month for the remaining 10 months of his probation.

If he doesn't live up to those terms, Pedersen said, "He'll be considered in violation of his probation and we'll get a warrant for his arrest."

Lewis would then be compelled to appear before a judge who could jail him or set more stringent probation terms.

But he clearly is better off answering to BI than to Maryland authorities.

Aside from the testing, there would have been severe, immediate consequences had drugs or alcohol turned up: The freedom he bargained for Monday, when he tardily agreed to tell what he knew about the stabbings of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, could have ended swiftly.

Because Lewis lives in Owings Mills, he would have reported to the state's Towson probation office.

State officials had expected to enroll Lewis in Maryland's "Break the Cycle" program, which calls for rewards for good behavior and punishment for those who violate the terms of their probation.

Under an interstate compact, Maryland would have accepted responsibility for Lewis but the judge in the case would have retained control. Any violations would have been reported to her.

After Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Lewis, the National Football League said he was likely to be fined but not suspended, and the Ravens said he was welcome next week at the team's voluntary minicamp.

Maryland probation officials were responsible for monitoring Lewis when he was free after the killings, awaiting trial.

"I've talked to people who supervised him when he was in pretrial status," said Richard Sullivan, acting executive deputy director of the state's Division of Parole and Probation. "They tell me he was absolutely in compliance with everything and was no problem at all.

"Of course, at that time he faced some very serious charges."

As an NFL player, Lewis is subject to substance abuse provisions that would be triggered if he were to fail the once-a-year mandatory drug test administered in training camp.

Players can also be referred to the NFL's substance-abuse prevention program. But participation is confidential.

The league has made public only those players who have been suspended because of their failure to comply with the rules of testing and treatment.

Sun staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

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