Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis, the NFL's offensive player of the year, was indicted yesterday in Atlanta on federal drug charges that date back nearly four years to his life before pro-football fame.
Lewis, who grew up in Atlanta, is accused of trying to help a childhood friend purchase as much as 50 kilograms of cocaine in a deal that turned out to be part of an FBI sting operation in the summer of 2000 -- after the former University of Tennessee player had been drafted by the NFL but before he signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the Ravens.
No drugs were purchased.
But an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta and made public yesterday describes audiotaped conversations about drug weight and price among Lewis, his friend and a confidential FBI source, including a meeting at a restaurant on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, where Lewis arrived driving a black Hummer.
Lewis, 24, is 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.
He was believed to be traveling from Florida to Georgia to turn himself in to authorities today and is expected to appear in federal court in Atlanta for an initial hearing. Efforts to reach Lewis last night were unsuccessful.
Edward T.M. Garland, an Atlanta defense attorney representing Lewis, told ESPN yesterday that Lewis was "shocked and saddened" by the indictment.
"He will be turning himself in [today] and will be facing these charges and expects to be exonerated from them," Garland told the sports network. Garland, who declined to comment further to other media outlets, said there would be a trial in the case but it was too early to say whether it could coincide with the NFL season.
The charges against Lewis stem from a long-running 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 probe has resulted in more than 30 convictions in Georgia's federal courts and is credited with dismantling a well-entrenched cocaine trafficking ring in the Bowen Homes public housing complex of northwest Atlanta.
William S. Duffey Jr., the U.S. attorney in that city, said in a statement yesterday that leads from the Bowen Home investigation led to the charges against Lewis and his co-defendant, Angelo "Pero" Jackson, 26.
The federal charges caught Ravens players and team officials by surprise. General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement that the team was "aware of the situation, and we're trying to learn more."
Newsome noted that the charges involve alleged activity before Lewis' first training camp and contract and added: "We believe in due process, and Jamal will have his day in court."
"From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know," Newsome said.
This indictment marks the second serious criminal case against a Ravens player in Atlanta. Linebacker Ray Lewis, who is not related, was charged with murder along with two other men after a fight at a city nightclub in early 2000. At trial, Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.
Jamal Lewis had his own early criminal troubles. After a shoplifting incident with two friends during high school, he pleaded guilty in November 1997 and paid a $1,000 fine as a first-time offender, with three years' probation. His mother, Mary Lewis, was a former warden with the Georgia corrections department, and she told The Sun later that she warned her son: "You are aware of the laws. You are aware of right and wrong."
The FBI affidavit sworn to by Special Agent Hoyt A. Mahaley Jr. described a roughly three-week period between June 23, 2000, and July 19, 2000, when authorities used an unidentified source to set up a fictional cocaine deal.
According to the affidavit, the informant first contacted Lewis by cell phone June 23, and the two allegedly discussed arranging cocaine sales for Jackson and agreed that the three of them would meet later that day. In the secretly recorded conversation, the informant agreed to "sell the narcotics to Lewis' associates for a price that Lewis can 'tax,'" or mark up for a profit, the affidavit said.
Lewis' response, according to the affidavit, was, "Yeah."
A few hours later, the three met at Houston's Restaurant on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, with Lewis pulling up in the Hummer, according to the affidavit.
Inside the restaurant, they were recorded as they discussed price and means for drug sales over dinner, the affidavit said.
Jackson and the informant met again July 12 and July 19, but Lewis did not attend or participate in any of the subsequent meetings or phone calls, according to the affidavit.
Federal agents arrested Jackson on July 19, when he arrived at the informant's apartment allegedly expecting to purchase as much as 50 kilograms of cocaine -- which could have carried a price as high as $1 million.
After Jackson's arrest, federal agents found a .40-caliber semi-automatic Ruger handgun with a bullet in the chamber and several bullets in the magazine stashed under the driver's seat of Jackson's green Honda Civic, the affidavit said.
Federal court records indicate that Jackson was charged after his arrest with drug offenses in U.S. District Court, but the case against him was subsequently dropped. It could not be determined why last night.
Jackson made an initial appearance on the current indictment yesterday in federal court in Atlanta and was released on $25,000 bond.
The drug conspiracy charge against Lewis and Jackson is fairly standard in U.S. courts across the country, veteran defense lawyers said last night. If convicted, the men could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison because of the amount of cocaine they are accused of conspiring to attempt to distribute.
"This is the sort of run-of-the-mill federal drug charge," said Baltimore defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell, who has represented many accused drug dealers. Ravenell said last night that it was impossible to know all of the evidence the government could have against Lewis, but he said it was not highly unusual to have a charges come in a complex drug investigation sometimes several years after the alleged activity.
In the years since that summer in Atlanta, Lewis has become an NFL star, one who is generally considered to be low-key and content to make his mark on the field instead of through locker-room trash talk or elaborate end zone celebrations.
In the 2000 draft, Lewis was the fifth pick overall and signed that July with the Ravens. He quickly became the heart of the team's offense; last season he became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards. He finished the season with 2,066 rushing yards -- just 39 yards short of the league record.
Against Cleveland in September, Lewis set the NFL's single-game rushing record with 295 yards.
Near the end of the 2001 season, Lewis failed the league's substance and alcohol abuse test, resulting in a four-game suspension because it was a second violation. He was reinstated by the NFL on Dec. 21, 2001.
In the quiet, western Baltimore County community of Granite where Lewis lives during the season, his elaborate home was dark last night. Neighbor Stacy Smith, who also serves as a personal assistant for Lewis, said he did not believe the allegations of drug activity.
"It's just conspiracy is all I think it is," Smith said. "He's harmless off the field."
Sun staff writers Jamison Hensley, Andrew Green, Walter F. Roche Jr., and Lynn Anderson, and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this report.
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis was charged by a federal grnad jury in Atlanta in connection with alleged drug conspiracy in 2000.
* Conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine of a least 5 kilograms.
* Knowingly and intentionally using a cellular telephone to commit a drug felony.
This excerpt from an FBI affidavit alleges interaction between Lewis and an informant (listed as CS) on a cellular phone. The text also refers to Pero, which is the alias of Angelo Jackson, who is also chartged in the indictment.
"There are two sides to every story, From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know."
Ozzie Newsome, Ravens general manager.
* Jamal Lewis is expected surrender to authorities and appear in court today in Atlanta.
* Lewis is scheduled to participate in the Ravens first minicamp on May 7.
This Ravens players' brushes with the law and NFL rules
May: A Virginia judge sentences sixth-round draft choice Cornel Brown to two days in jail, after a misdemeanor battery amd assault conviction stemming from a campus brawl at Virginia Tech the year before.
August: The league suspends running back Bam Morris for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, his second offense. The offense also was a violation of his probabtion after a marijuana conviction while he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
September: Defensive back Ralph Staten is charged with drunken driving after a crash that injured a woman aslo accused of driving drunk, Baltimore County police said. Also, police found a 9-mm semiautomatic handgun on the floor. Four months later, he was charged with a handgun violation that followed another aut accident.
October: Brown is arrested twice in one day, before dawn on a DUI charge and later in the day, driving with a license that had been automatically suspended for a week because of the drunken-driving arrest. He later received a suspended sentence for the DUI charge.
January: Linebacker Ray Lewis is charged with murder and assault in connection with the Jan. 31 stabbing of two men in Atlanta after the Super Bowl. The charges were dropped in June after Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, and testified against his codefendants, who were acquitted. Lewis completed a one-year probabtion and was fined $250,000 by the NFL.
April: Defensive lineman Larry Webster is suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy for the foruth time in his career. An attorney representing Webster said his client's recent positive drug test results from the NFL were in error, and that two additional tests conducted by private laboratories were negative.
May: Free-agent signee Leon Searcy is arrested on domestic battery charges in connection with an incident in Clermont, Fla., involving his wife. In October, Searcy was suspended for one game as a result of the charge through the league's personal conduct policy.
November: Running back Jamal Lewis is suspended for four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, though a knee injury precluded him from playing that season. The major effect on Lewis was the inability to get paid or have and contact with the team.
December: Linebacker Terrell Suggs is charged with felony aggravated assault in connection with a fight after a March basketball game in Phoenix.
SOURCE: SUN RESEARCH, SUN STAFF
The Sun online
For developments in the Jamal Lewis story throughout the day go to baltimoresun.com.