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Lewis released after posting bond

ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis pleaded
innocent Thursday to federal drug charges that he tried to help a
childhood friend buy cocaine in the summer of 2000.

"I just want to say it's extremely important to me that my
family, my friends, my fans and the Ravens organization know that I
am innocent and I thank everyone for their continued support,"
Lewis said after his hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse.

The Baltimore football player, an Atlanta native, was released
on $500,000 bond on charges that he conspired to possess with the
intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine, during which he
used a cell phone in violation of federal law.

Lewis didn't speak during the 15-minute hearing, other than
answering "yes" when asked by the judge and the U.S. attorney if
he understood his rights and his plea.

U.S. Magistrate E. Clayton Scofield III said Lewis can travel
nationwide while he awaits trial, but he ordered him to have no
contact with co-defendant Angelo Jackson or government witnesses.

If convicted of conspiracy, Lewis could face 10 years to life in
prison.

Lewis, wearing a gray business suit, was escorted into the
courtroom by U.S. marshals and flanked by four attorneys. Lewis was
not handcuffed.

After the hearing, Lewis stood in the rain and thanked
supporters while one of his lawyers, Ed Garland, said that the same
recorded telephone conversation being used by federal prosecutors
to charge Lewis may prove his innocence.

"They may have omitted things that should have been in there,"
Garland said. "We believe it will show he is innocent."

Lewis had turned himself in to the FBI Thursday morning, when he
was arrested and booked.

Lewis was indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiring to possess
with the intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a
cell phone in the commission of the first count. If convicted on
the conspiracy count, Lewis could face 10 years to life in prison.

Garland said Lewis did not try to help a childhood friend buy
cocaine in the summer of 2000. Garland said a cocaine buy wasn't
discussed during a restaurant conversation more than three years
ago among Lewis, a boyhood friend, and a woman who turned out to be
a police informant.

No drugs were ever purchased, according to the indictment.

"This informant is attempting to set up Jamal Lewis to get out
of jail," Garland said. "It is odd that this is coming right
after he had a very successful season. Sometimes celebrities get
targeted because they are in the news."

A statement from the Ravens said Lewis should have a chance to
tell his side of the story.

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, prosecutors said.

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.

Hours after the call, Lewis and 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.

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. His 2,066 yards fell short of Eric
Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards in the final game. 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 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.