J.Lewis to face drug charges in middle of season

BALTIMORE – Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis' bid for another blockbuster campaign will include the obstacle of facing federal drug conspiracy charges during the middle of football season.<br><br>

The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 2,066 yards last season and is scheduled to begin his trial Nov. 1 in an Atlanta courtroom at 9:30 a.m. He has been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a cellular phone in violation of federal law.

Lewis, 25, could face a minimum, mandatory prison term of 10 years if the alleged conspiracy is found to involve at least five kilograms of cocaine.

It's unclear exactly how Lewis would manage the schedule of his trial, which is expected to last two weeks, as the defending AFC North champions play at the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 31 and host the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 7. It's possible that Lewis might not be required to attend every day of the trial. And his high-profile legal team will likely try to continue the trial until after the season.

Lewis has expressed confidence that he could miss practice during the week and play on Sundays, a la NBA star Kobe Bryant's routine as he deals with a sexual assault accusation. Ravens coach Brian Billick has been fairly skeptical about how such an arrangement would functionally work, but hasn't completely ruled out the idea.

"There is a due process and we can't control the court date," Ravens senior vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne said. "If it is Nov. 1, we'll just deal with it and he'll just deal with it. Brian did say, ‘I did not say he wouldn't play. I just have to wait and see.'"

Lewis and childhood friend Angelo "Pero" Jackson are embroiled in an FBI investigation stemming from a drug sting conducted in the summer of 2000 months prior to Lewis signing a six-year $35.3 million contract. Lewis has pleaded innocent and is free on a $500,000 bond.

"We'll wait and see until we have to cross that bridge," Billick said. "We have a plan for it."

Lewis played last season aware of the FBI investigation, but didn't apprise team officials of his legal predicament.

"I was hoping that it would go away, hoping that it might disappear," Lewis said in June.

Lewis reported to training camp with a sleeker physique, down to 237 pounds. He's of the mind that he could battle the drug charges and defenses designed to curtail his impact within the same week.

"Playing running back is not like playing defense where you have a lot of schemes," Lewis said. "I run the same plays every week. The only thing that changes is sometimes the defenses. So, I just got to know what my gaps, my guards and my reads are and where the hole is and I hit it and go."

Meanwhile, prosecutors are trying to prevent a federal judge from suppressing Jackson's statement that they claim ties in Lewis. Jackson's attorneys argue that the statement was illegally obtained because their client allegedly hadn't been read his rights.

FBI agent Mark Webster quoted Jackson as saying when he was arrested in July of 2000: "Jamal told me that she had the kilos. They gonna kill me, man, they going to kill me."

Lewis' attorneys, Ed Garland and Don Samuel, have attacked the credibility of a confidential informant for the government, citing the woman's extensive criminal background and numerous aliases and social security numbers. They didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.

"The whole purpose here is to try to prejudice the public into believing that Jamal Lewis and Angelo Jackson worked together in a drug deal," Steve Sadow, Jackson's lawyer, told the Associated Press. "So, anytime they can reference Jamal Lewis to anyone's statements, they're going to do it."

If Lewis has been affected by the legal turmoil, it hasn't shown up in his performance and preparation.

"Jamal always has that serious face on," said Musa Smith, Lewis' backup. "He looks like he has spent a lot of time lifting steel."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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