Plea bargain of less than year in prison offered Ravens' J. Lewis

Federal prosecutors propose deal in drug case

star faces Nov. 1 trial

October 01, 2004|By Bill Rankin | Bill Rankin,ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

ATLANTA - Attorneys for Ravens running back Jamal Lewis and federal prosecutors are engaged in plea negotiations that could resolve a drug indictment against the 2003 NFL rushing champion, lawyers familiar with the case said.

Federal prosecutors have offered a deal in which Lewis would receive a sentence of less than one year in prison, according to lawyers familiar with the negotiations.

Lawyers and prosecutors have been discussing a possible deal over the past two weeks. Any agreement would have to be approved by U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans, who is presiding over the case.

Lewis, last year's NFL Offensive Player of the Year, faces charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine and using a cell phone to set up a drug transaction. The case stems from a federal investigation in the summer of 2000 when the FBI used a cooperating witness to contact Lewis to allegedly arrange a cocaine deal.

Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates declined to comment yesterday. Don Samuel, a member of Lewis' defense team, referred questions to his partner, Ed Garland, who also declined to comment.

If no agreement can be reached, Lewis and longtime friend and co-defendant Angelo Jackson would stand trial on Nov. 1 in the midst of the NFL season. If convicted, Lewis and Jackson would face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.

Jackson steadfastly maintains his innocence, said his lawyer, Steve Sadow.

"I would hope that a man like Jamal Lewis, who is idolized by young black males throughout the U.S., would not simply say he was guilty because the federal government has pressured him, when the facts show he is innocent," Sadow said. "That teaches exactly the wrong lesson."

It is not uncommon for prosecutors and defense attorneys to engage in pre-trial negotiations. Only a small percentage of criminal cases go to trial.

If the case goes to trial, it is expected to be hotly contested.

A key witness in the case against Lewis is Tomeka Richard, who has swindled victims from Texas and Georgia. Court records show that Richard continued to commit crimes while she cooperated with the FBI in making a case against Lewis and Jackson. Defense attorneys would be expected to attack her credibility.

Federal authorities allege that during the investigation Richard, posing as a drug dealer, called Lewis on June 23, 2000, and discussed a possible drug transaction. That call was a month before Lewis, who had attended the University of Tennessee before being the fifth pick in the 2000 draft, signed a $35 million NFL contract with the Ravens.

Prosecutors allege that Lewis introduced Richard to Jackson at Houston's Restaurant in Buckhead, Ga., a meeting that authorities secretly tape-recorded. Richard continued to call Lewis over the next few weeks. At the same time, Jackson and Richard met together on a number of occasions to try and set up a cocaine deal, federal prosecutors have said.

During meetings between Jackson and Richard, federal agents recorded the conversations with hidden microphones and video cameras, some of which have been played in pre-trial hearings.

Jackson was taken into custody on July 19, 2000, on the night he was supposed to buy cocaine from Richard. With only a few dollars in his pocket and a loaded handgun under his seat, Jackson was arrested by federal agents as he sat inside his car outside Richard's apartment.

Jackson, but not Lewis, was indicted on drug conspiracy charges after his arrest. But federal prosecutors dismissed that indictment, only to indict Jackson and Lewis together in February for the same alleged cocaine deal.

Sadow, Jackson's lawyer, has contended his client never intended to buy cocaine.

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