J. Lewis accepts plea, faces NFL sanctions

OWINGS MILLS - Jamal Lewis avoided the possibility of a decade in prison as his lawyers reached a plea-bargain agreement with federal prosecutors a month prior to his drug conspiracy trial in a deal where the Baltimore Ravens star running back would likely serve four to six months after football season, according to multiple reports.

However, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year still faces sanctions from the league under its substance-abuse policy that could include a suspension this season, an NFL spokesman said Saturday. That action would be triggered by a strike against the league's substance-abuse policy because of the guilty plea to a reduced charge.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has wide discretion and could suspend Lewis, 25, for four games, a year or more, or issue a significant fine after analyzing the drug case and the NFL player's past conduct as a repeat offender with two strikes in the league's drug program.

Lewis was suspended for four games without pay while injured during the 2001 season for his second strike under the league's drug policy. His high-profile attorneys, Ed Garland and Don Samuel, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.

While Lewis' future remains uncertain, a plea could bring closure to the Ravens.

"There's some definition coming about, so that's good, as opposed to this ambiguous when, what, where, how's this going to happen," Ravens coach Brian Billick "The commissioner will address that as he sees fit. We'll let the management council and the union and everybody that weighs in on this bring definition to it.

"The NFL will decide what they're going to do with that and what the rules permit and we'll react accordingly. .. As we move along, the more we can bring specific definition to it, the better it is both for him personally and for this team."

Lewis' trial on conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a cellular phone to set up a drug transaction was set for Nov. 1 in his hometown of Atlanta. He may be allowed to serve a portion of the four-to-six month sentence in a halfway house and isn't expected to serve the high end of the plea, according to reports.

Lewis will not be required to testify against co-defendant Angelo "Pero" Jackson, a childhood friend, according to the Associated Press.

The deal hasn't been ratified by U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans, but is expected to be completed by next week. It's also possible that Lewis might not be formally sentenced until after Jackson's case is resolved.

For the second consecutive day, Lewis claimed he has no knowledge of a plea agreement.

"I don't know anything," Lewis said. "I only talk to my lawyers if I have to. Anything else that comes out, it may be true, it may not be true. So, obviously, it might not be true.

"My lawyers will call me and let me know what's going on -- if something is going on. They haven't called me and let me know anything, so there's nothing I can give you feedback on. Any answers you need, you can call my lawyers. They're the source down in Atlanta, so I think that's the best feedback."

When asked whether a plea had ever come up in his discussions with his legal team, Lewis said: "That's part of the overall thing. It could be trial. It could be pleas. Those are all options."

Lewis pleaded innocent after being indicted in February and was released on $500,000 bond. The case stems from accusations that Lewis tried to help broker a cocaine deal for Jackson in the summer of 2000 a month before signing a $35 million contract with the Ravens.

Billick cautioned against speculation about what Lewis' deal indicates about his character and future.

"I would caution everybody to before you cast judgment, and I know you will anyway, that you wait until all of the facts and all the proceedings, and it may take a while," Billick said. "It may take a couple months, as I understand it from the courts, from regards to the league, before you have all of the facts as to what is going to come down and what he's pleading guilty to. Those who choose to jump off with characterizations, I would caution you not to do so because you will be wrong."

Since Lewis' indictment, his lawyers repeatedly assailed the credibility of key informant Tomeka Richard. They portrayed her a career criminal who continued to commit crimes of fraud while working for the government. And they suggested that their client was entrapped while acknowledging how much he potentially had to lose at trial.

A 10-year sentence would have effectively ended Lewis' football career.

"Jamal's my friend," Ravens wide receiver Travis Taylor said. "Of course, I will continue to support him."

The news comes days before the Ravens play a nationally televised Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Nothing surprises me when it comes to our legal system," Billick said.

Lewis rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards last season, the second-highest single-season total in league history. He was aware of the FBI investigation the entire time, but chose not to apprise the team of his impending legal situation.

Heading into Monday night's game, Lewis appeared unfazed by the legal machinations surrounding his future.

"Monday Night Football, prime time, national stage, this is what I do," Lewis said. "This is my life. This is my career."

NOTES: The Dallas Cowboys signed tight end Brett Pierce to their active roster off the Ravens' practice squad. The Ravens replaced him with tight end Darnell Dinkins, formerly with the New York Giants. … Baltimore reported no changes to their injury report with Kansas City adding defensive end Jared Allen as a questionable listing with a knee injury.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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