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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Updated: February 26, 11:02 AM ET
Lewis expected to turn himself in Thursday

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Jamal Lewis insists he did not try to help a childhood friend buy cocaine in the summer of 2000, an accusation that has the Baltimore Ravens running back facing federal drug charges.

Lewis' attorney said a cocaine buy wasn't discussed during a restaurant conversation more than three years ago involving Lewis, a boyhood friend and a woman who turned out to be a police informant.

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That meeting and a prior cell phone conversation between Lewis and the informant are the focus of federal drug charges filed Wednesday against the NFL star. No drugs were ever purchased, according to the indictment.

"Jamal Lewis wants everyone to know that he is not guilty, that he has not been involved in drugs," said Ed Garland, the running back's attorney. "He's extremely disappointed that this is happening."

Lewis, who had the second-highest rushing total in NFL history last season, planned to turn himself in Thursday, Garland said. Lewis' other attorney, Don Samuel, said he expected the player to briefly appear before a federal judge in the afternoon, then make a statement outside court.

Lewis is charged with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of the first count, U.S. Attorney William S. Duffey said. If convicted on the conspiracy count, Lewis could face 10 years to life in prison.

Ravens spokesman Chad Steele said the indictment came as a surprise to the team. "We had no clue," he said, adding that Lewis was in Florida on Wednesday.

In a statement, the team said: "We believe in due process, and Jamal will have his day in court. There are two sides to every story. From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know."

Ravens defensive end Anthony Weaver also said he was surprised.

"But I don't about the facts. I know Jamal's character, and to me, he's always been a straightforward guy," Weaver said. "I just hope he finds the right people to help him get through this."

The NFL declined to comment.

The indictment came out of a drug investigation that has led to 30 convictions and helped dismantle a cocaine-trafficking ring in the city, Duffey said. He refused to say whether Lewis was tied to that drug ring.

In an affidavit, FBI special agent Hoyt Mahaley said that an informant contacted Lewis on his cell phone on June 23, 2000, to discuss selling cocaine to Lewis' friend. The conversation was recorded, according to the agent.

"The cooperating source told Lewis that he/she was willing to sell the narcotics to Lewis' associates for a price that Lewis can tax," meaning the price could be marked up for a profit, Mahaley said in the affidavit.

"Lewis responded, 'Yeah,''' the agent said.

Hours after the call, Lewis and the friend, Angelo Jackson, met with the informant at an Atlanta restaurant, the affidavit said. There, Lewis and Jackson asked the informant how much cocaine the informant was capable of distributing, the affidavit alleges.

Jackson and the informant met again on July 12, 2000, at a gas station in suburban Atlanta, the affidavit said. During the meeting, they discussed drugs, but no purchase was made.

Lewis wasn't at the gas station. His attorney, however, said Lewis was at the restaurant, but not for the reason alleged in the indictment.

"There are apparently tapes of the meeting, but the question is who did what and who intended to do what," Garland said.

Garland accused the informant of setting up Lewis and "trumping up what happened" in an attempt to get out of jail. He accused authorities of trying to "create a crime where there isn't one."

Jackson was also indicted and arrested Wednesday. He faces the same counts and a third for attempt to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine.

A college star at Tennessee, Lewis was the fifth pick overall in the 2000 draft, and signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the Ravens that July.

Last year, he became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards. He also set a single-game rushing mark with 295 against Cleveland. Lewis' 2,066 yards fell short of Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards. He was the AP's Offensive Player of the Year.

In November 2001, he was suspended for four games after violating the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse policy for the second time. The league did not disclose the details of the violation, in keeping with its policy.

Lewis is the second Baltimore Ravens player to face serious charges in Atlanta. In 2000, star linebacker Ray Lewis -- no relation to Jamal -- was charged with murder along with two other men following a fight.

During the trial six months later, Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. He testified against his two co-defendants, who later were acquitted of all charges.