George Starke, the former Redskins tackle who found a calling for himself helping troubled young people, pleaded guilty yesterday to possession of crack cocaine -- cocaine he insists was not his.
Arrested last month after he was pulled over by D.C. police for not wearing a seat belt, Starke maintains that he had nothing to do with the cocaine that was discovered in the car. He said the vehicle was donated to the organization he runs.
But faced with a charge that could land him in jail, Starke pleaded guilty yesterday in D.C. Superior Court and agreed to be assessed for possible drug treatment. Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin is expected to sentence him July 12.
As part of his plea, Starke will be assessed by the Psychiatric Institute of Washington for possible drug treatment. He and his lawyers insisted that he will test negative for drug use and that he will not be found to need any treatment.
The judge said she will take the assessment into account at Starke's sentencing next month. If she is satisfied with the results, she could place Starke on probation and eventually expunge the conviction from his record. Otherwise, Starke could face up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Starke, 55, said his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge was not an admission that he was using drugs. Repeatedly, he and his lawyers told reporters that he had pleaded guilty only to spare his family the ordeal and expense of taking the matter to trial.
"I never told the judge I did drugs," said Starke, an offensive lineman who was one of the original Hogs during the 1970s. "She didn't ask me that, and I did not say that. I was charged with possession of cocaine."
Starke was stopped May 14 by police in the 500 block of H Street NE. An officer had noticed that Starke was not wearing his seat belt, police said. A check of his driver's license erroneously found that it was not valid, his lawyers said, and a search by police of the car turned up the seven grams of cocaine.
Starke runs the Excel Institute, a technical academy based in the city for young people who have been in trouble. The institute teaches participants to be auto mechanics, and the students work on donated vehicles.
Yesterday, asked how the drugs could have been in the car, Starke and his attorneys stressed that the vehicle had been donated and that other people also had access to it.
The guilty plea followed a day of last-minute negotiations between the U.S. Attorney's Office and Starke's lawyers, Ted J. Williams and Gregory Lattimer.