ATLANTA, Jan. 26 -- Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who led the NFL in rushing in 2003, was sentenced to four months in prison Wednesday at a federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., as the result of a plea bargain stemming from federal drug charges.
As part of his plea agreement, which was reached in October, Lewis also was fined $20,000, will serve an additional two months at Dismas House, a halfway house in Atlanta, and will serve one year of probation, which will include random drug testing and searches. Lewis also will perform 500 hours of community service.
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis leaves the federal courthouse in Atlanta on crutches.
(John Amis - AP)
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Lewis, 25, appeared in court Wednesday on crutches after undergoing surgery on his right ankle Jan. 10. "I just want to say I'm truly sorry for what I did," Lewis said in a statement to the court. He was wearing a cast and was expected to report to prison after having the cast removed, most likely Feb. 4, one of his attorneys, Ed Garland, said.
Lewis had pleaded guilty to a charge of using a cell phone to help a childhood friend facilitate a drug transaction -- one of seven counts in an indictment filed last February in connection with an undercover FBI investigation during the summer of 2000, after Lewis was drafted by the Ravens but before he had signed with them. Federal prosecutors agreed to drop more serious drug conspiracy and attempted cocaine possession charges.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Orinda Evans accepted the sentencing agreed to in the plea bargain, and suggested Lewis probably wouldn't have been convicted if his case had gone to trial. Evans could have imposed a harsher sentence because Lewis's prison term is less than that recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.
"The government did not have as strong of a case as it would have liked against Mr. Lewis," Evans said during the sentencing hearing. "The government had only one witness to the transaction . . . and she was an individual who was, I think, potentially quite impeachable. She was an undercover informant and had a questionable background and could have been impeached at trial.
"What the government got out of it [the plea agreement] was the certainty of a conviction and what Mr. Lewis got was a lesser sentence. I think if this case would have gone to trial when it was scheduled to go to trial, there was a high possibility it would have been difficult for a jury" to come to a guilty verdict.
Garland said Lewis made the best decision by pleading guilty. Co-defendant Angelo Jackson pleaded guilty to more serious drug charges and Wednesday was sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison. He sat in the second row of the courtroom during Lewis's hearing.
"We believe we did the right thing. There are no regrets," Garland said. "Faced with the situation again, we wouldn't do anything differently. Jamal Lewis has got his life and his career back. I think he's ready to get it over with."
Lewis left the courthouse through a back tunnel and didn't speak with reporters.
"I think Mr. Lewis gets some credit for stepping up to the bar and taking responsibility for his actions and admitting guilt," the judge added during the hearing.
Lewis was suspended two games by the NFL last season for violating its substance abuse policy and won't face further disciplinary action from the league. A Ravens spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors alleged Lewis introduced Jackson to Tomeka Richard, 29, who was working as an FBI informant and posing as a drug trafficker. The informant contacted Lewis on his cell phone about the drug deal, and Jackson met with the woman on several occasions but no drug deal was ever consummated. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June that Richard had stolen cars and identities, forged her mother's name and swindled victims from Georgia to Texas, according to court records, and committed fraud while working as a government informant.
Lewis, who grew up in Atlanta, was an all-American at the University of Tennessee and the No. 5 choice in the 2000 NFL draft. He signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the team in July 2000. Lewis ran for 1,006 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games this past season, missing two games because of the suspension and two others because of a sprained ankle. It was nearly half of his production from 2003, when he ran for 14 touchdowns and 2,066 yards, second-most in NFL history.
If Lewis reports to Maxwell Air Force Base on Feb. 4, he would be released June 4, and the earliest he could leave the halfway house would be August 4. The prison sentence won't allow Lewis to participate in any of the Ravens' offseason minicamps and workouts, and the sentence also could affect his rehabilitation from surgery. The Ravens have tentatively scheduled their passing camp May 16-19, and veteran minicamps are scheduled June 6-9 and June 13-16. Training camp in Owings Mills, Md., is scheduled to begin July 31.
Donald Samuel, another of Lewis's attorneys, said he hoped the halfway house would allow Lewis to work out during his two months in Atlanta. Lewis will be required to remain at the facility from around 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., and can only leave for job-related reasons, according to his attorneys.