NFL may add to Lewis' plea-deal terms

League suspension likely to follow if Raven enters guilty drug plea

Plea for `lot less' than year

NFL declines comment as plea talks advance

October 02, 2004|By Jamison Hensley and Jeff Barker | Jamison Hensley and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for Jamal Lewis are considering a plea-bargain deal in his drug conspiracy case under which he would receive "a lot less" than one year in prison, according to attorneys familiar with the case. But the Ravens running back still could face a league suspension that would keep him away from football longer than that.

Central to the plea negotiation is whether attorneys for Lewis and federal prosecutors can finalize an agreement that allows each to claim a victory of sorts. Lewis, of course, would prefer an outcome to the talks that doesn't contain jail time, but that seems unlikely.

Lewis, 25, said yesterday, "This is news to me. I know nothing about it."

Sources familiar with the talks say the discussions focus on a prison sentence of significantly less than a year. If Lewis agrees to plead guilty, he might have an NFL suspension waiting for him after he serves his sentence.

Based on the league's substance-abuse policy, Lewis could face stiff punishment - a suspension of more than a year and/or an extensive fine - although it is impossible to predict what the disciplinary measure would be. League officials declined to comment.

Lewis has had at least two violations of the substance-abuse policy in his five-year NFL career. For the second one, he was suspended without pay for four games in 2001, when he missed the season with a torn knee ligament.

The alleged drug charges stem from incidents in June 2000, before he joined the NFL, and it is possible any disciplinary action by the league would take the timing into account.

Lewis, last year's NFL Offensive Player of the Year, is preparing for the nationally televised Monday night game against Kansas City. A deal could be struck as soon as next week but, if that were to happen, it is not clear when he would begin serving his sentence.

The Ravens player 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.

A plea bargain, in effect, would be a way to avoid rolling the dice. If convicted, Lewis and longtime friend and co-defendant Angelo Jackson could receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison because of the amount of cocaine allegedly involved.

While his attorneys have expressed confidence many times in Lewis' ultimate acquittal, they have also conceded that the outcome of a case is never a certainty in the hands of a jury. Lewis has repeatedly said he is innocent.

If no agreement is reached, Lewis and Jackson would stand trial Nov. 1.

Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney's Office, was out of town and unavailable for comment. Don Samuel and Ed Garland, attorneys for Lewis, declined comment. Steve Sadow, attorney for Jackson, was in court in an unrelated case and could not be reached for comment.

There are some restrictions on federal plea bargains. Federal rules prohibit prosecutors from bargaining down on a specific charge - say, by lessening the amount of cocaine involved. Also, drug cases are often settled when a defendant agrees to cooperate, but his lawyers have said Lewis doesn't know anything about any drug dealers that he could offer.

Prosecutors, though, do have some flexibility. In August, the government added a new series of counts in the cocaine conspiracy case - which technically gives them more to bargain with.

Ravens coach Brian Billick, when asked about the court case and possible NFL sanctions, said yesterday, "Whatever form it takes, certainly the league's perspective and what the commissioner chooses to do is all part of that process.

"We'll continue to monitor it as it goes along" he said, but until something definitive occurs the team treats the situation as if "nothing has changed."

In 1999, St. Louis Rams pass rusher Leonard Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in an alcohol-related traffic accident that killed a woman and served 90 nights in jail. Under the substance-abuse policy, he was suspended eight games without pay by the NFL.

Lewis is eighth in the NFL in rushing this season, gaining 305 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Last season, he recorded the second-most prolific season for an NFL running back by rushing for 2,066 yards.

"As they work through it, we'll adjust," Billick said. "Obviously, our plan is in place to deal with whatever circumstance presents itself. There's nothing more we can say until it comes to fruition."

Sun staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Kansas City Chiefs (0-3) vs. Ravens (2-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

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