J. Lewis faces two-game suspension

Raven pleads guilty in drug case

Pro Football

October 08, 2004|By Ken Murray and Jamison Hensley | Ken Murray and Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Jamal Lewis is expected to be suspended for two games by the NFL today, one day after the Ravens running back pleaded guilty in court here to using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime, sources within the Ravens' organization said.

The league's punishment will sideline Lewis for the Oct. 24 game against the Buffalo Bills and the Oct. 31 game at the Philadelphia Eagles, club sources said last night.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to announce the suspension today. Because of NFL procedures, the ruling will not affect Lewis' availability for Sunday's game at Washington.

Ten months after he made a run at the NFL record book, Lewis pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime, a development that will send him to a minimum-security prison for four months.

U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans tentatively accepted a plea agreement that avoids a potentially long prison term on drug conspiracy charges for Lewis.

During a 20-minute hearing in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, Lewis agreed to serve the prison time, two months in a halfway house and perform 500 hours of community service after his release from prison as part of the plea agreement.

Lewis, 25, dressed in a charcoal-colored suit with matching diamond earrings, issued a brief statement after the proceeding, but did not take questions from reporters.

"I made a mistake four years ago when I was 20 years old and I'm paying for it," he said outside the courthouse. "If nothing else, I hope the kids who support me will choose their friends wisely."

Evans set a sentencing date of Jan. 26. Her approval of the plea agreement is pending a pre-sentence investigation into Lewis' background and its subsequent findings.

The timing of that sentencing date should enable Lewis to finish the season and serve his prison time in the offseason.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Lewis has agreed to testify at the Nov. 1 trial of co-defendant Angelo Jackson.

"Jamal will have no trouble testifying," said Lewis' Atlanta-based attorney, Ed Garland. "He is available to testify to the facts he knows."

Both the government and Lewis' representatives described the agreement as fair. It comes after weeks of negotiations that acknowledge the unique circumstances involved in the case.

"We are satisfied that we have reached a fair resolution concerning Mr. Lewis' role in this offense," said acting U.S. Attorney Salley Quillian Yates. "His guilty plea reflects that participating in a drug transaction in any capacity is serious and can land you in prison.

"We are hopeful that the time Mr. Lewis spends in community service speaking to young people about the dangers of getting involved with drugs will prevent others from making the same mistake."

Since the original indictment in February, Lewis, the team and his attorneys had insisted on his innocence.

"At that time, Jamal had not examined and reviewed what had transpired," Garland said. "What Jamal said to us was, `If my conduct makes me guilty of a crime, I want to accept it, face it and acknowledge my involvement.'"

Still, Garland pointed to the wording in the plea agreement that indicated Lewis had no intent to benefit from the sale or purchase of cocaine.

"Lewis maintains that at no time during these events did he possess cocaine, intend to possess cocaine, provide any money for the purchase of cocaine or expect to receive any money from the sale of cocaine," Garland said, reading from the agreement.

"Jamal Lewis admits that he had the specific intent to commit the offense charged in Count 2 of the superseding indictment."

The government issued a second indictment in August, in which Count 2 charged the use of a telephone to facilitate a drug crime.

In February, Lewis and Jackson, longtime friends, were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and attempted cocaine possession. Lewis also was charged with using a cell phone to facilitate a drug transaction.

Lewis was re-indicted in August and charged with brokering a drug deal with Jackson and two other men, Keaton Lamar Johnson and Neyaunte Stallings. The government accused Lewis of introducing his unindicted co-conspirators to a woman so the three other men -but not Lewis - could buy cocaine from her. The woman turned out to be a government informant.

Said Garland: "A 20-year-old boy can make stupid mistakes. That's what happened. He had no motivation; he had ample money coming in."

Garland said the deal ensures Lewis will be able to continue his NFL career.

"By entering this plea, it brings a certainty to what his future will be," Garland said.

Though the NFL provides a five-day window to decide whether Lewis wants to appeal his penalty from the league, both Lewis' attorneys and Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said there will be no appeal to the league.

Lewis, who is scheduled to earn $3.2 million this season, is expected to lose $190,235 for each week of the suspension.

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