Jamal Lewis hit by '00 drug case

Star Ravens back accused of conspiracy, result of Atlanta FBI cocaine sting

If convicted, could face 10 years

Alleged offenses occurred before he joined Ravens

February 26, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis, the NFL's offensive player of the year, was indicted yesterday in Atlanta on federal drug charges that date back nearly four years to his life before pro-football fame.

Lewis, who grew up in Atlanta, is accused of trying to help a childhood friend purchase as much as 50 kilograms of cocaine in a deal that turned out to be part of an FBI sting operation in the summer of 2000 -- after the former University of Tennessee player had been drafted by the NFL but before he signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the Ravens.

No drugs were purchased.

But an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta and made public yesterday describes audiotaped conversations about drug weight and price among Lewis, his friend and a confidential FBI source, including a meeting at a restaurant on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, where Lewis arrived driving a black Hummer.

Lewis, 24, is charged with conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute, 5 kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of a drug crime.

He was believed to be traveling from Florida to Georgia to turn himself in to authorities today and is expected to appear in federal court in Atlanta for an initial hearing. Efforts to reach Lewis last night were unsuccessful.

Edward T.M. Garland, an Atlanta defense attorney representing Lewis, told ESPN yesterday that Lewis was "shocked and saddened" by the indictment.

"He will be turning himself in [today] and will be facing these charges and expects to be exonerated from them," Garland told the sports network. Garland, who declined to comment further to other media outlets, said there would be a trial in the case but it was too early to say whether it could coincide with the NFL season.

The charges against Lewis stem from a long-running drug investigation in one of Atlanta's most violent public housing projects. Such probes involving confidential informants and undercover federal agents routinely take years to complete, as investigators identify targets for prosecution and arrange sealed indictments and plea deals.

Authorities said the probe has resulted in more than 30 convictions in Georgia's federal courts and is credited with dismantling a well-entrenched cocaine trafficking ring in the Bowen Homes public housing complex of northwest Atlanta.

William S. Duffey Jr., the U.S. attorney in that city, said in a statement yesterday that leads from the Bowen Home investigation led to the charges against Lewis and his co-defendant, Angelo "Pero" Jackson, 26.

The federal charges caught Ravens players and team officials by surprise. General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement that the team was "aware of the situation, and we're trying to learn more."

Newsome noted that the charges involve alleged activity before Lewis' first training camp and contract and added: "We believe in due process, and Jamal will have his day in court."

"From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know," Newsome said.

This indictment marks the second serious criminal case against a Ravens player in Atlanta. Linebacker Ray Lewis, who is not related, was charged with murder along with two other men after a fight at a city nightclub in early 2000. At trial, Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

Jamal Lewis had his own early criminal troubles. After a shoplifting incident with two friends during high school, he pleaded guilty in November 1997 and paid a $1,000 fine as a first-time offender, with three years' probation. His mother, Mary Lewis, was a former warden with the Georgia corrections department, and she told The Sun later that she warned her son: "You are aware of the laws. You are aware of right and wrong."

The FBI affidavit sworn to by Special Agent Hoyt A. Mahaley Jr. described a roughly three-week period between June 23, 2000, and July 19, 2000, when authorities used an unidentified source to set up a fictional cocaine deal.

According to the affidavit, the informant first contacted Lewis by cell phone June 23, and the two allegedly discussed arranging cocaine sales for Jackson and agreed that the three of them would meet later that day. In the secretly recorded conversation, the informant agreed to "sell the narcotics to Lewis' associates for a price that Lewis can `tax,'" or mark up for a profit, the affidavit said.

Lewis' response, according to the affidavit, was, "Yeah."

A few hours later, the three met at Houston's Restaurant on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, with Lewis pulling up in the Hummer, according to the affidavit.

Inside the restaurant, they were recorded as they discussed price and means for drug sales over dinner, the affidavit said.

Jackson and the informant met again July 12 and July 19, but Lewis did not attend or participate in any of the subsequent meetings or phone calls, according to the affidavit.

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