Often referred to as a political prisoner, Richard John Wershe Jr. has finally been granted parole, after 30 years. He was 17 when convicted of a non-violent cocaine dealing crime after having worked as an FBI informant since the age of 14.
Here is his story:
At 14, with no prior drug involvement, Rick Wershe was recruited by the FBI as a paid confidential informant. The feds chose the streetwise teenager because he was known and trusted by a neighborhood family being targeted by the feds as suspected coke dealers.
Wershe was good at his job—maybe too good as detailed in a Daily Beast story from 2015.
Not only did Wershe brief the FBI about drug trafficking, he also told agents about obstruction of justice by city officials, the police, homicide inspectors, the mayor and about the feared Detroit gang leader Johnny Curry.
Wershe’s job changed abruptly when someone in the Curry gang killed a 13-year old boy.
The FBI knew that an honest homicide investigation was impossible because Johnny Curry was married to the niece of then-mayor Coleman Young, who ruled Detroit like an emperor for 20 years (1974-1994).
Detroit Homicide Inspector Gilbert Hill, also in cahoots with Curry, wouldn’t go near the investigation.
The cops, the Curry gang and the mayor all stuck together until Wershe, barely 16 at the time, implicated them all.
Wershe’s intel about the gang’s killing of the 13-year-old boy and the official cover-up of it meant that his role as an FBI teen informant was at risk of public exposure. So, the Detroit FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped him like a hot potato, with no warning.
What did 17-year-old Wershe do then?
He did what the feds had taught him to do: deal cocaine. But that didn’t last long.
In January 1988, at 17, Wershe was convicted and sentenced under one of the harshest drug statutes ever conceived in the United States, Michigan’s draconian 650-Lifer Law, which mandated an automatic life prison term, without parole, for the possession of 650 grams or more of cocaine. (The average time served for murder in state prisons in the 1980s was less than 10 years.)
Then-Governor William Milliken, who signed the bill into law later called it the worst mistake of his career. The statute has since been rolled back.
Wershe is the only person sentenced under the old law who is still in prison for a crime committed as a juvenile.
His case became a media frenzy as local papers and TV dubbed him the godfather of the deadly multi-million-dollar cocaine trade in Detroit’s inner city.
However, there was never any evidence to support the stories that a white teenager was a drug lord in the midst of Detroit’s adult, multi-million-dollar inner city criminal enterprise, but “White Boy Rick,” as he was known, became a local legend.
This, despite the fact that he was never charged with any drug-related violence, never operated crack houses and was never charged with conspiracy.
Wershe’s mistake was crossing Detroit’s corrupt political machine and drug underworld, which happened to be all one family.
The FBI never came to his defense. In fact, the feds hung him out to dry and watched while the vendetta mounted against a teenager who was supposedly helping them root out big-city corruption.
Now, White Boy Rick, described by a prison official as a near-model prisoner, is finally going to be paroled.
There are many different types of victims of the War on Drugs. Rick Wershe is one of them just as was the 13-year-old who was shot in the crossfire.
It’s time to put an end to that vindictive war, not restart it.
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