J.Lewis set to plead guilty in Atlanta

OWINGS MILLS - Baltimore Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis will miss Wednesday's practice to formally plead guilty to using a cellular phone to facilitate a drug transaction at an afternoon hearing in an Atlanta courtroom.<br><br> Lewis, 25, agreed to a reduced plea bargain in his federal drug conspiracy case to avoid the possibility of a serving a decade in prison. He had been scheduled to go to trial Nov. 1, but isn't expected to go to prison until after football season.

Lewis is expected to play Sunday night against the Washington Redskins after returning to Baltimore on Thursday night to practice Friday and Saturday.

This plea will trigger some form of punishment from the NFL management council for a violation of the law related to substance abuse under the league's collective bargaining agreement and could include a suspension of up to four games without pay and/or a fine.

The NFL is expected to rule on Lewis' punishment during the bye week and he could begin serving a suspension Oct. 24 against the Buffalo Bills. While Lewis could appeal his suspension, which would drag out the process, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue rarely grants appeals and has wide discretion in these matters.

One published report stated that Lewis will challenge a ruling because the incident occurred one month before he signed his first NFL contract. However, all prospective NFL players are required to sign a document at the annual scouting combine months before the draft agreeing to comply with the league substance-abuse policies from that point onward.

The NFL is even allowed to enter players in the drug program (Example: Minnesota Vikings runner Onterrio Smith) based on their history of failed drug tests and other behavior while in college.

Lewis has twice violated the NFL drug program and was suspended for four games in 2001 for his second strike against the policy. He hasn't had any reported brushes with the testing program in the last three years, a favorable point likely to be argued before the management council.

Indicted in February on a charge of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine, Lewis is expected to serve four months in a minimum-security prison and two months in a halfway house or confined to his home along with several hundred hours of community service. U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans is expected to sign off on the agreement struck by Lewis' legal team and prosecutors.

The charges stem from an FBI investigation that alleges that Lewis tried to help co-defendant Angelo Jackson, a childhood friend, broker a major cocaine deal during the summer of 2000 one month before the fifth overall pick from the University of Tennessee signed a $35 million contract. Lewis was 20 years old at the time.

Lewis' lawyers, Don Samuel and Ed Garland, have repeatedly said their client was entrapped by key government informant Tomeka Richard. Richard has an extensive criminal record, multiple aliases and continued to commit crimes while working for the government.

It's possible Lewis could be called to testify against Jackson, but it's not specifically required in his plea agreement according to reports.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and Ravens Insider.

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