Baltimore Sun

Ravens star Jamal Lewis to face new drug charge

Federal prosecutors added a drug-related charge and new details yesterday in their cocaine conspiracy case against star Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who is to stand trial in the middle of the football season on charges that he brokered a cocaine deal for a hometown Atlanta friend.

The allegation came in a new indictment that takes the place of the one issued against Lewis and childhood friend Angelo Jackson in February.

In the original indictment, Lewis was charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of a drug crime.

The new document also accuses Lewis of aiding and abetting Jackson in attempting to possess and sell cocaine. The indictment details their actions in an alleged conspiracy with two other men.

It breaks the telephone allegations against Lewis into three counts - one for each time he is alleged to have used a phone to assist Jackson or an unindicted co-conspirator in a cocaine deal.

Lewis' attorney, Don Samuel, said last night that the government is merely repackaging old accusations.

"It's all the same stuff, but recast in different ways without any new activity alleged," Samuel said. "The government is worried, I would assume, that no juror in his right mind would find him guilty of conspiring with Jackson. So, they're giving the jury more options. By putting as many counts as they can in there, they figure the odds are increased of getting at least one conviction."

Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta, declined to comment.

The charges against Lewis date to 2000 and stem from a drug investigation in one of Atlanta's most-violent public housing projects. Such probes involving confidential informants and undercover federal agents routinely take years to complete, as investigators identify targets for prosecution and arrange sealed indictments and plea deals.

Authorities said the investigation has resulted in more than 30 convictions in Georgia's federal courts and is credited with dismantling an entrenched cocaine trafficking ring in the Bowen Homes public housing complex in northwest Atlanta.

The case against Lewis and Jackson is expected to center on an undercover informant who secretly recorded her conversations with them in 2000.

According to an FBI affidavit, the woman first contacted Lewis by cell phone and they discussed arranging cocaine purchases for Jackson. The three met later at an Atlanta restaurant, where they discussed a price, the affidavit says.

The new indictment alleges that Lewis introduced Jackson and two other men, Keaton Lamar Johnson and Neyaunte Stallings, to the woman so that the three men, but not Lewis, could buy cocaine from her.

The document says Lewis provided Johnson with the woman's phone number, and that Johnson met with her a week later and tried to buy cocaine. The indictment alleges that Lewis encouraged Stallings to buy cocaine from the woman.

Lewis' contacts with Johnson and Stallings had not been detailed in the previous indictment, and neither Johnson nor Stallings was identified in it.

According to a government official, Johnson and Stallings have been convicted in the Bowen Homes investigation. They are not charged in the new indictment or the prior one against Lewis and Jackson.

If convicted, Lewis and Jackson could receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison because of the amount of cocaine allegedly involved.

Attempts to reach Ravens officials for comment were unsuccessful.

After the original indictment, Lewis turned himself in to FBI officials and was released on $500,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty and said he wants fans to know that he is innocent.

Lewis, whose regular season begins Sept. 12, rushed for 2,066 yards last year, second-best in NFL history, and scored 14 touchdowns.

His trial is set for Nov. 1.

The Ravens organization has said the team is prepared to play without Lewis.

After last weekend's game, coach Brian Billick said: "I understand Jamal's date is set. ... There's some finality to it, that's great, and we'll deal with it."