The 24-year-old National Football League (search) player was released on $500,000 bond after a 15-minute hearing in federal magistrate court. Lewis, who had surrendered earlier in the day, didn't speak during the hearing, other than answering "yes" when asked if he understood his rights and his plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Gabay-Smith refused to comment following the hearing.
No drug transaction was made, according to the federal indictment handed up Wednesday. The investigation focuses on a restaurant meeting more than three years ago between Lewis, a boyhood friend, and a woman who turned out to be a police informant — as well as a cell phone conversation between Lewis and the informant.
Lewis' attorney says nothing about the conversations involved a cocaine buy.
"Jamal Lewis wants everyone to know that he is not guilty, that he has not been involved in drugs," attorney Ed Garland said before the hearing. "He's extremely disappointed that this is happening."
Lewis, who had the second-highest rushing total in NFL history last season, was charged with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute 5 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.
In a statement, Lewis' 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."
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 would not 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.
Garland accused the informant of setting up Lewis and "trumping up what happened" in an attempt to get out of jail and accused authorities of trying to "create a crime where there isn't one."
Jackson also was indicted and arrested Wednesday. He faces the same counts and a third for attempt to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine.
Last year, Lewis 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.