NFL suspended Lewis for two games
The penalty, worked out with prosecutors in October, should allow Lewis to return to the Ravens well before the start of the 2005 season. At most, he could miss the opening of training camp.
He also will spend two months in a halfway house and perform 500 hours of community service following his prison term.
Lewis pleaded guilty to trying to set up the drug deal a few months after the Ravens chose him No. 5 overall in the 2000 NFL draft. No drugs ever exchanged hands.
Prosecutors agreed to drop more serious drug conspiracy and attempted cocaine possession charges.
"I'm truly sorry for what I did," Lewis said to U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans.
Explaining the short sentence, the judge said the government didn't have a strong case and noted the only witness against Lewis was an informant with a lengthy criminal record.
Evans said she was also giving Lewis "credit for stepping up to the bar" and admitting his guilt.
The football player has until Feb. 4 to surrender to allow him time to have a cast removed from his right ankle, the judge said. Lewis recently had surgery on the foot.
Evans said she will recommend that Lewis serve his time at a federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. The community confinement will be served at a halfway house in Atlanta.
If Lewis reports at the latest possible date and does not get time off for good behavior, the earliest he would be released from the halfway house would be Aug. 4. The Ravens' training camp usually opens sometime in late July, and the NFL season starts in early to mid-September.
The Ravens said the team would not be commenting on Lewis's sentence.
Defense lawyer Ed Garland said the sentence was fair and allows for Lewis to return to the Ravens next season. "Jamal Lewis has his life and his career back," Garland said outside court.
Lewis was suspended for two games by the NFL after his guilty plea; the Ravens finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
Lewis, a former star at Tennessee, could have faced at least 10 years in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge, but likely would have received a shorter sentence under federal guidelines. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to a shoplifting charge in suburban Atlanta, but officials agreed to wipe his record clean if he complied with his probation.
In the drug case, Lewis was accused of helping broker a cocaine deal for childhood friend Angelo Jackson during conversations with a government informant in Atlanta.
On June 23, 2000 -- Lewis had been drafted by the Ravens on April 15 -- the FBI said an informant contacted Lewis on his cell phone to discuss selling cocaine to Lewis and Jackson. The FBI said Lewis and Jackson later met the informant at an Atlanta restaurant. Both conversations were taped.
Jackson and the informant met several times more over the next several weeks, but Lewis was not part of any of those conversations, court papers say.
Lewis signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the Ravens in July of that year. Three years later, he was chosen NFL offensive player of the year after rushing for 2,066 yards, the second highest total ever for a single season. Lewis wasn't indicted on the federal drug charges until February 2004; prosecutors say they waited to protect an ongoing investigation.
Jackson pleaded guilty to attempting to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. He was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in federal prison.
"Thank you, your honor, I'm sorry for my actions," Jackson told the judge.
Lewis and Jackson grew up in the same Atlanta neighborhood and had known each other for years.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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