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Prison possible for Lewis

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2004

ATLANTA -- Lawyers for Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis are negotiating a plea deal in his drug conspiracy case that would allow him to serve jail time in the offseason, a source close to the case told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Under a deal being discussed with federal prosecutors, Lewis would serve four to six months -- possibly split between jail and a halfway house -- after the season, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

''There would be no jail time that would interfere with his career,'' the source said.

Any deal must be signed off on by all sides and approved by a federal judge. If that happens, the deal could be completed in the next week, the source said.

''My lawyers will call me and let me know what's going on if something is going on,'' Lewis said Saturday from the Ravens' practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. ''They haven't called me and let me know anything.''

Lewis indicated a plea deal is an option.

''That's part of the overall thing,'' he said when asked if he has discussed a deal with his lawyers. ''It could be trial, it could be pleas.''

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday a player conviction of a drug-related offense would violate the league's drug policy and be grounds for discipline. The punishment would be based on the player's history and the facts of the case. Aiello declined to comment on a possible plea deal or what sanctions Lewis could face.

Lewis, 24, is accused of helping broker a cocaine deal for Angelo Jackson, 26, a childhood friend, during conversations with a government informant in Atlanta during the summer of 2000. Both are scheduled to stand trial Nov. 1 -- the middle of the NFL season.

Last year, Lewis became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

He and Jackson are charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and using a cell phone in violation of federal law and attempted cocaine possession. They pleaded not guilty, and their lawyers have suggested in court papers that their clients were entrapped by the informant, who they said has a long criminal record.

The deal being discussed is not contingent on Lewis providing testimony against Jackson, the source said, although Lewis may choose to cooperate.

The source disputed a report in The (Baltimore) Sun on Saturday that said a deal had been reached.

Lewis attorney Jerome Froelich and acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates declined to comment.

Last week, Froelich said he was preparing for trial. But in recent days, talks have apparently intensified as Lewis' defense team has sought to avoid a suspension by the NFL and a trial that could lead to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence if Lewis is convicted of conspiracy.

Kevin Byrne, a spokesman for the Ravens, said Lewis has done a good job staying focused on football amid the charges.

''Jamal's focus in his job with the Ravens has been excellent all year,'' he said. ''Obviously he's had this hanging over his head all season.''

Ravens coach Brian Billick said Saturday that talk of a plea deal has at least brought the possibility of closure.

''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,'' Billick said.

The coach urged caution in judging Lewis.

''I would caution everybody before you cast judgment -- and I know you will anyway -- that you wait until all of the facts and all the proceedings,'' Billick said. ''And it may take awhile.''

Lewis, meanwhile, said the case won't affect his preparation for the Ravens' Monday night game against Kansas City.

''This is what I do,'' Lewis said. ''This is my life. This is my career. That pretty much says it all.''

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Associated Press Writer Foster Klug in Baltimore contributed to this report.



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