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Guilty plea

Ravens' Lewis to serve four months in prison; NFL suspension looms

Updated: Friday October 8, 2004 12:38AM
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Jamal Lewis
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Ravens make-do sans Lewis

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens learned Thursday what it's like to run their offense without Jamal Lewis.

It was only a practice session, and the team was certain that Lewis would be back in pads Friday and in the backfield Sunday night against the Washington Redskins.

But it probably won't be long before the Ravens are forced to play on Sunday afternoon without their most potent offensive weapon.

Lewis spent Thursday in federal court in Atlanta, where he pleaded guilty to using a cell phone to facilitate a drug transaction. So his teammates began preparing for the Redskins without him.

"Obviously, Jamal is going to be a little bit behind with our base package," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "But he's a smart kid. He'll be back, he'll get the playbook, he'll get the film to watch from practice today, and he'll get caught up pretty quick. I'm not that worried about it."

Lewis, who ran for 2,066 yards a year ago, probably won't begin serving his prison sentence until the offseason. But he will almost certainly receive a suspension of at least two games from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Said Cavanaugh: "We'll see what the league decides, and if we don't have him for a period of time, then just like any other distraction, you've got to deal with it."

If that time comes, the Ravens will handle loss of Lewis in the same fashion they've treated the absence of wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin injury), center Mike Flynn (shoulder) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle).

"Look at what we've gone through already," said Casey Rabach, who took over for Flynn. "Travis Taylor down, Mike Flynn down, Todd Heap out. It's just another one to add to the pile. We've responded well.

"If he's here, great. If he's not, he's not," Rabach added. "Obviously we're totally behind Jamal. We've got his back. But we'll run with what we've got."

That would be Chester Taylor and Musa Smith, both of whom moved up a notch on the depth chart for Thursday's session. Taylor has shown that he can be a capable NFL back; during the second week of the season against Pittsburgh he gained 76 yards rushing on only nine carries.

ATLANTA (AP) -- ATLANTA (AP) -- Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis will serve four months in prison when the NFL season ends after pleading guilty to using a cell phone to violate federal law by trying to set up a drug transaction.

Under the deal with prosecutors agreed to Thursday, Lewis would also spend an additional two months in a halfway house and 500 hours of community service.

The Ravens' most dangerous offensive weapon also faces possible suspension by the league. Club sources told The (Baltimore) Sun on Thursday night that Lewis is expected to be suspended for two games by the NFL on Friday. The league's punishment will sideline Lewis for the Oct. 24 game against the Buffalo Bills and the Oct. 31 game at the Philadelphia Eagles, club sources said.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans set Lewis' sentencing for Jan. 26. If the Ravens make a run in the playoffs, there is no guarantee Lewis' sentence would begin after the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, though his lawyers said they hope that it would.

After Thursday's hearing, a contrite Lewis, 25, apologized during brief comments to reporters outside the federal court.

"I made a mistake four years ago, when I was 20 years old, that I am paying heavily for," Lewis said. "It's a difficult time for me. My family and friends were hurt more."

Drug conspiracy and attempted cocaine possession charges are expected to be dropped against Lewis under the plea agreement. His trial had been set for Nov. 1.

The conspiracy charge can carry a minimum mandatory 10-year sentence, but as a first-time offender Lewis likely would have faced a shorter sentence under federal guidelines.

"I believe it probably is in the best interest of both sides," Judge Evans said in accepting the plea.

The sentence is expected to conclude before the start of the 2005-06 season.

"We will review the court documents from [Thursday's] proceedings and announce a decision on league discipline as soon as possible, perhaps as early as [Friday]," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Even if Lewis is suspended by the league, he has five days to appeal, so he's likely to play in Sunday night's game against Washington.

Lewis was accused of helping broker a cocaine deal for co-defendant Angelo Jackson, a childhood friend, during conversations with a government informant in Atlanta during the summer of 2000. Charges against Jackson are still pending.

Under Lewis' plea deal, he has agreed to testify truthfully at Jackson's trial, also set for Nov. 1, if called as a witness. However, Lewis lawyer Ed Garland stressed that the plea deal is not contingent on Lewis implicating Jackson.

"It's not a quid pro quo, 'If you don't testify you won't get a deal,' " Garland told reporters.

Judge Evans said Lewis' plea is binding unless she ultimately decides to sentence him to more time in prison than under the terms of the plea agreement. In that case, Lewis could withdraw his guilty plea, the judge said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said after the hearing that she is satisfied with the terms of the plea and she hopes Lewis' time in community service speaking to young people about the dangers of drugs "will prevent others from making the same mistake."

During his court appearance, Lewis simply responded "Yes, your honor," or "No, your honor," to questions from the judge.

He smiled as he chatted with his attorneys before the hearing, but wore a stern look as he left the courtroom.

Ravens' president Dick Cass issued a statement saying that the team continues to support Lewis.

"We hope that he will be part of our organization for years to come," Cass said.

The FBI has said an informant contacted Lewis on his cell phone on June 23, 2000, to discuss selling cocaine to Lewis and Jackson. The FBI said Lewis and Jackson later met the informant at an Atlanta restaurant. Both conversations were taped.

Jackson and the informant met several times more over the next several weeks, but Lewis was not part of any of those conversations, court papers say.

Authorities said they waited until this past February to indict Lewis to protect their investigation.

Lawyers for Lewis accused the informant of trying to entrap their client in an effort to get out of jail time. They had planned a vigorous defense before striking a deal with prosecutors over the last week.

At the time of the incident, Lewis was a star running back out of Tennessee and the draft's fifth overall pick who had returned home to his middle-class neighborhood in west Atlanta to wait out contract negotiations with the Ravens.

However, it was the time Lewis spent that summer with his friends from the area of Bowen Homes, a public housing project four miles away, that clouded the NFL offensive player of the year's future.

The crime-ridden housing project was at the center of a federal drug investigation that ensnared Lewis.

Former U.S. Attorney William Duffey has said the indictment against Lewis came out of an investigation at Bowen Homes that had been going on for at least four years, led to 30 convictions and helped dismantle a cocaine-trafficking ring.

Bowen Homes residents have said Lewis would sometimes hang out at the housing complex.

Lewis, who gained the second-most rushing yards in NFL history last season with 2,066 yards, grew up in a ranch-style house in the Adamsville section of Atlanta.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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