Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rick Wershe’s Next Big Challenge—Life on the Outside

In a unanimous decision, the 10-member Michigan Parole Board voted on Friday to grant parole to Richard J. Wershe, Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a juvenile. He has served 29-and-a-half years of a life sentence. He may have to do some time in Florida for an old auto theft fraud case before he tastes freedom, but sooner or later Wershe will face another big challenge: Life on the outside.

The world has changed since Rick Wershe was last a part of it.

Rick Wershe’s many supporters—and there are many—have rightfully been celebrating since the Michigan Parole Board finally decided to deliver some long overdue justice. Wershe has served far more time than truly big-time drug dealers and drug-world hitmen, guys who kill people for money. All of them do ten or twelve years and they’re out. 

As Informant America has reported many times over the last two years, Rick Wershe was a political prisoner. He was recruited as an FBI informant at age 14 and he became too good at it. He became known in the media as White Boy Rick. He told the FBI about the drug corruption of politically-connected and politically-powerful people in Detroit and Wayne County. Those people fought to keep Wershe in prison until he dies. This is covered in a piece I wrote for The Daily Beast.

All of that is over now. He could taste the fresh air of freedom as soon as the middle of August. This, by the way, is the normal process. If the Parole Board votes to give an inmate parole, the inmate doesn’t pack up and check out the same day. A parole officer must be assigned and that parole officer is required to investigate what Rick Wershe intends to do on the outside, where he intends to live, and with whom. The parole officer must interview the people Rick Wershe will live with and impress upon them the importance of not having any firearms in the same house, and certainly no drugs. All of this takes time. We’re talking about a bureaucracy, after all. For an inmate who has been granted a parole, all that matters is that vote by the Board. A few more weeks is nothing.

Rick Wershe has a case in Florida hanging over his head, and it may mean another delay in his release, but that will be addressed in another blog post.

For now, let us consider this: when he gets out, Rick Wershe faces a whole new set of challenges. He’s going to have to learn how to live on the outside. He’s been in prison his entire adult life. He’s never been a free adult. Think about that. Think about the adjustment he is going to have to make. The “system” has no mechanism to help him with that. He will be on his own. It is hoped that his many supporters will help him with that, too. That’s what this blog post will explore.

The first thing for Wershe’s family and friends to know is this: he needs protection. I'm not talking about protection from the criminals he knew in the past. I’m talking about hustlers and hucksters who hope to make a fast buck off of him.

Here’s an example: on Friday, after the news of his parole broke, some guy called Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, and wanted to start a business selling their autographs. Really. There are going to be all kinds like that coming out of the woodwork. They will try to track him down and pester him with crackpot ideas on how to make money off his notoriety.

Don’t get me wrong. Rick Wershe can take care of himself. He has spent three decades in the prison system. But the sheer volume of nut jobs and opportunists who see dollar signs when they see his name may be a bit much for even a street-savvy guy like Wershe. He has several job offers awaiting him and the last thing he needs is one of these creeps showing up at his job with a scheme to make money off the White Boy Rick legend.

Rick Wershe is going to face a world very different from the one he knew in 1988. When he went behind bars, Ronald Reagan was President. Gulf War I and Gulf War II hadn’t happened yet. Neither had the war in Afghanistan. Neither had the presidency of Bill Clinton. No one knew who Monica Lewinsky was. No one had heard the President referred to as Dubya. No one had ever heard of Barack Obama.

There were still phone booths on many street corners. Internet Web browsers and search engines hadn’t been invented yet. No one had ever heard of Google, Amazon or Netflix. Fox News was non-existent in 1988. Talent-challenged Kim Kardashian was not yet famous for being famous.

Rick Wershe certainly knows about all these things. He’s been in prison but not in solitary confinement. Still, the man became an adult in prison. He’s never had to cope with the day to day bullshit the rest of us accept as normal. People who consider themselves his friends can do a lot by helping him make the transition to life, a whole new life, on the outside. As he said last week when talking about his legendary past, White Boy Rick is dead.

This morning (Sunday, July 16th) I received an email from Rick Wershe that I think needs to be shared with his family, friends and supporters. Communication with him is challenging and slow, so I haven’t asked his permission to share this. But under the circumstances, I’m going to bet Rick won’t mind if I let all of you know what he had to say.

A couple of notes about this email:

The “Mr. Eagen” he refers to is Michael Eagen, the chair of the Michigan Parole Board. Eagen took the unusual step of personally interviewing Rick at length one-to-one last February. At the end of that interview Eagen told Rick he handled himself well and indicated he was favorably impressed. It gave Rick his first dose of optimism about the system in three decades.

His reference to Judge Hathaway is Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, who took over the Wershe case after his original trial judge retired. Judge Hathaway had the courage to take a second look at the Rick Wershe case and she concluded that, under current law, his sentence should be revised to essentially time-served. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy threw a fit and fought it all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which cravenly refused to review the matter. That left Wershe in limbo. 

Ironically, that cowardly decision by Michigan's highest court seemed to energize and motivate many people to demand justice. Suddenly, the Wershe case became politically HOT. Kym Worthy, facing considerable heat, moved to 'no position' and didn't object to parole. We saw the end result in the Parole Board vote this past Friday.

What follows is Rick Wershe's email to me verbatim:

Hey Vince yes WOW it feels so surreal it hasn't sunk in yet!!! 10 my way!

Mr Eagen has restored my faith that there are still good honest people in the system. Everything he told me he did!!! That has never happened to me in 30 years!!! I am at a loss for words at how highly I think of him!!! If I could see him I would just say thank you and I will never let you down! He's right up there with how highly I think of Judge Hathaway!!!
Man, Vince, this shit is finally over! And the stars are finally shining on me! I am just so happy!
Thank you and everyone else who helped expose their lies and cover-ups along the way!!!
Take care, all the best!!!

Rick makes a good point. Michael Eagen did the right thing in a system that has done the wrong thing for a long, long time. He deserves credit for it. All supporters of Rick should consider sending Eagen a short note thanking him for standing up for what is right and finally delivering justice in the Richard Wershe case. Guys like Eagen don’t get thanked very often. Here’s how to contact him:

Michael Eagen
Michigan Parole Board
Michigan Department of Corrections
PO Box 30003
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rick Wershe, Jr. granted parole from life sentence

Free at last. Well, almost. Richard J. Wershe, Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving inmate for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a juvenile, was granted a parole today by the Michigan Parole Board.

"I'm coming home," an emotional Wershe told his lawyer's secretary before hanging up and promising to call back later.

He was informed of the Michigan Parole Board’s decision by Eric Smith, administrative assistant to the warden at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan, where Wershe is regarded as a model prisoner. "He was obviously emotional," Smith said. "I sat with him for about two hours and we talked about the future and the next steps. (It was) pretty much what you would expect from a guy waiting for news that changes his life."

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - Light at the end of the tunnel (MDOC photo)

The decision comes just four days short of his 48th birthday. Wershe has spent his entire adult life behind bars. Wershe has been viewed as a political prisoner because it appears that political forces in Detroit have fought to keep him in prison. Other drug offenders who were charged in far bigger cases than Wershe’s, have been paroled after serving ten years or less. Even drug underworld hitmen, responsible for multiple murders, have served less time than Wershe.

Wershe, who was recruited as a confidential informant by the FBI at age 14, incurred the wrath of the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County criminal justice system after he helped the feds prosecute drug corruption involving a dozen cops and the common-law brother-in-law of former Detroit mayor Coleman Young. The case resulted in multiple convictions and prison sentences.

“I told on the wrong people,” Wershe has said.

He still faces prison time in Florida for a conviction in an auto fraud case involving stolen cars. His attorney intends to petition the Florida judge to change the two-year sentence to be concurrent with his Michigan time, which would eliminate any additional time in a Florida prison.

There will be more detailed coverage in a blog post on Sunday.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Rick’s Life Sentence Drug Arrest—What Really Happened

There are many controversies surrounding the case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—who is serving a life prison term for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a teenager. One contentious issue was his arrest in May, 1987 on charges of possession of over 650 grams of cocaine. What really happened? At his parole hearing last month Wershe explained, under oath, step-by-step, what went down that night.

The first thing to know before reading any further is that Rick Wershe, Jr. is not, and never has been, one of those Innocence Project inmates. Wershe admits he was involved in crime as a juvenile. He admits he wanted to be a big-time drug dealer. (He never made it, despite his reputation in the media.) But there’s another side to the story and it’s a big BUT.

Rick Wershe, Jr. with his mother Darlene at Oaks Correctional facility. He's waiting for the Parole Board to decide on his petition for parole from his life sentence in a 1988 drug case. A decision is expected this month or next.

As noted on this blog many times, Rick Wershe, Jr. was recruited into the drug world at age 14 by FBI agents in pursuit of the Curry Brothers drug gang on Detroit’s east side. He was recruited as a Confidential Informant. Wershe had not been part of the dope scene before that, but he lived in a racially mixed neighborhood, he was street-wise and he knew the Currys.

When the feds made their case against the Currys, they dropped their kid-informant, who was used to living a fast life on FBI and Detroit Police cash. Being a fully immature teen, Rick got the stupid idea that he ought to try his hand at becoming a big-time drug dealer, too.

The night of his fateful arrest, Wershe testified he was on his way to his grandmother’s house to pick up two kilos of cocaine he had stored there for a buyer named Brian McClendon, who had already paid him for the dope.

On the way to get the cocaine and deliver it to McClendon, who was following in another car, Wershe and his friend Roy Grisson, who was driving, were stopped by Detroit Police officers Jeffrey Clyburn and Rodney Grandison.

Wershe testified: “I knew Grandison very well.” Interestingly, in the parole hearing, Assistant State Attorney General Scott Rothermel, who seemed to want to fly-speck every aspect of Wershe’s time as a drug dealer said: “I’m not interested in that narrative.”

That may be because Rothermel, the seeker-of-truth-if-it-suits-his-line-of-questioning, didn’t want it to come out that FBI agent Herman Groman, who was present at the parole hearing, had proved with a tape-recorded telephone conversation that Grandison had lied—a felony—at Wershe’s drug trial. Introducing that would be messy. It would call in to question Wershe's conviction because a key witness committed perjury. Theoretically, it could re-open Wershe's drug conviction, and then where would the criminal justice system be? The system that has kept him in prison for 29 years based on that court conviction?

Grandison testified at Wershe's trial that he’d never met Wershe before that night. When Groman was working with Wershe at Marquette prison in 1990 to set up a sting operation that netted convictions of a batch of corrupt cops, Groman arranged to have Wershe call Grandison at home on a pretext. The phone conversation was unimportant, but it established beyond all doubt that Police Officer Rodney Grandison knew Rick Wershe, Jr. and he had perjured himself on the witness stand. If Rothermel had allowed Wershe to explain, he would have testified that Grandison used to invite him to his home often to smoke weed.

Wershe and Grisson didn’t have any drugs in the car when the police stopped them. But they had money, a lot of it. 

There was $34,000 in cash in a plastic grocery shopping bag. More on the amount later. 

The police spotted the cash on the floorboard of the car and confiscated it. They had no warrant to do so and there was no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.

It was a warm night and when the police stopped the car in front of Wershe’s grandmother’s house, Richard Wershe, Sr. came out to see what the commotion was about. Wershe Sr. grabbed the bag of cash from the police in a scuffle. Rick’s sister Dawn grabbed the cash and ran in to grandma’s house with it.

Rick Wershe, Jr., meanwhile, walked away while his family and the police were fighting over the cash. He was not carrying anything. But that quickly changed. Wershe said he went to his grandmother’s detached garage and got a box of drugs that had arrived that day. 

Wershe’s pal, the late Steve Rousell, had put the drugs in the garage after a shipment had arrived that day from Miami.

Somehow, Wershe managed to take the box of drugs to the next block and hid it under a residential porch without getting his fingerprints or palm prints on the box. 

“We were in a panic,” Wershe testified. He admits he encountered Camden Street residents Greg and Patricia Story but, counter to testimony at the trial, Rick says he did not have a conversation with them and he denies offering Patricia Story five-hundred dollars to keep the box hidden. 

“I was on the porch, trying to look inconspicuous,” Wershe said.

It didn’t work. The police arrived about ten minutes later on foot and took Wershe in to custody. He testified they put him in handcuffs and walked him between the houses back to Hampshire Street where the traffic-stop and scuffle occurred.

There was a fence between the houses. Wershe says Grandison pulled him over the fence gate by a gold chain around Wershe’s neck, then threw him to the ground. “He pistol-whipped me," Wershe testified. His eye socket was shattered and Wershe wound up going to the hospital instead of jail.

The neighbors eventually found the box of drugs and called the police, and some narcs came and took custody of the drugs about an hour after the incident occurred.

Wershe admits he has changed his story over the years and he suggested he once told a different version under oath because a lawyer was trying to help him win an appeal. He says what he told the Parole Board on June 8th was the absolute truth.

Now. About that bag of money in the car when the police stopped Wershe and Grisson. Wershe testified the bag contained $34,000. It was money that Brian McClendon had paid him for two keys of coke.

But the police report after the incident said $29,000 was confiscated when Wershe was arrested. 

What happened, Wershe was asked at his parole hearing, to the difference between the $34,000 that he was paid and the $29,000 the police turned in? “You have to ask the Detroit Police that,” Wershe said, without cracking a smile.    


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rick Wershe’s Parole Hearing: His Tormentors Just Won’t Give It Up

On June 8th, Richard Wershe, Jr. spent over four hours fighting for his life. He was tested by an Assistant Michigan Attorney General who ignored key elements in the Wershe story while grilling him at length about other parts. And for good measure, the media was chided for not finding a bombshell that turned out to be a dud.

Rick Wershe handled himself pretty well, all things considered, at his long-awaited hearing before the Michigan Parole Board. A lot of time was spent asking Wershe about his criminal activities before his conviction and imprisonment for life for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a teen. Wershe is Michigan’s last remaining prison inmate doing life for a non-violent drug conviction. The Michigan Parole Board is facing two federal lawsuits over the question of why they are keeping Wershe in prison when all other inmates similarly charged have been released for time served.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - hoping the Michigan Parole Board will end his life sentence. (MDOC photo)

There were some tense moments at the hearing, which will be explored in this blog post.

In response to questions from Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel, Wershe explained his troubled childhood and how he came to be recruited by the FBI to become a paid informant against the Curry drug gang, which dominated the drug trade on Detroit’s east side in the mid-1980s. Wershe is believed to be the youngest informant ever recruited by the FBI for criminal investigations.

Over the course of the hearing it became clear that Rothermel was determined to highlight all of Wershe’s crimes and mistakes and bad choices. Rothermel was not interested in hearing about all of the help Wershe provided the FBI. Perhaps that’s because Wershe helped expose corruption in the so-called criminal justice system of Michigan. To elicit details about Wershe’s informant work on public corruption would mean Rothermel would have to shine the spotlight on the graft, corruption and injustice within the system of which he is a part. Can’t have that, now can we?

Wershe was required to be truthful about every crime and misdeed brought up in the questioning. He knew and understood that total honesty was vital to winning parole. That’s why he became agitated when Rothermel threw him a curve ball.

To understand the curve ball, it’s necessary to offer some background. After Rick Wershe was sentenced to life in prison in Detroit in 1988, he was approached in Marquette State Prison by FBI Special Agent Herman Groman, his “handler” when Wershe was working as an informant from the summer of 1984 until the spring of 1986.

Groman told him the government would get him transferred to the federal Witness Security program if he would help initiate an FBI undercover sting operation aimed at prosecuting drug corruption in the Detroit Police Department. The Witness Security program (WitSec) is a prisoner version of the Witness Protection program. Certain federal prisons have a special secure section for convicts who are informants and who have helped the government make important cases. It’s still prison, but life in the WitSec units is far better than in regular prison facilities.

Wershe agreed to help the FBI again, and Operation Backbone was a big success. Close to a dozen police officers were indicted and pled guilty or were convicted. Operation Backbone also ensnared Willie Clyde Volsan, the former brother-in-law of Detroit’s late Mayor Coleman Young.

Rick Wershe was transferred to a WitSec unit at federal prison in Phoenix, Arizona. His time there was unremarkable until he befriended Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the Mafia hitman turned informant who helped bring down John Gotti, the Godfather of Godfathers in the U.S. Mafia.

Gravano found out Rick Wershe’s father was a licensed gun dealer. Soon, Gravano asked Wershe to help him get some guns that could be used to murder John Gotti, Jr. for some feud he and Gravano had.

Wershe informed Herm Groman, his longtime FBI handler, about what Gravano was up to. Groman had to report it to Washington. This stirred up a hornet’s nest in Washington at the FBI and Justice Department. Here was one informant informing on a higher profile informant, the government’s prize witness against the Mafia.

The FBI/Justice Department investigation of Wershe’s claims about Gravano got muddled, perhaps deliberately, and the matter ended inconclusively. But Wershe, for his own safety, had to be transferred. They moved him to another WitSec unit in a federal prison in Florida.

While there, Wershe got wind of a used car sales scheme involving guys on the outside and a fellow WitSec inmate named Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols.

Wershe saw an opportunity to buy used cars in Florida and ship them to Michigan to be re-sold at a higher price. He says he did it to help his mother and sister make some money. He also admitted he learned, at some point, that these were stolen cars.

Wershe was busted along with a number of others involved in the car scam. One of them was Antonio Ferrer, a car salesman on the outside. When Ferrer was arrested, he did what millions of criminals do: he told on the others in hopes of getting a break on his part of the case. It worked. Ferrer was charged, like Rick Wershe, with Racketeering and Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering. For singing a song about everyone else in the scheme, Ferrer was sentenced to probation on both counts. No time served. He did, however, have to pay a fine for his part in the car scheme.

The Miami-Dade police detective on the car case, Les Cravens, apparently loved the story Ferrer told him. Cravens wrote up what is called a probable cause affidavit, laying out all the claims Ferrer made about the others in the case, including Rick Wershe. Such affidavits routinely list all the crimes and possible crimes related to the investigation. It’s like throwing all the allegations against a wall and seeing which of them stick.

One of Ferrer’s allegations was that Rick Wershe proposed hiding drugs in the door panels of cars being shipped out of Florida as a means of smuggling narcotics.

The Florida prosecutor never pursued this allegation against Rick Wershe. He pled guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. But there was nothing—nothing—in the charges against him or in his court paperwork for the plea agreement that mentioned drugs.

Thus, Rick Wershe was stunned at his June 8th parole hearing when Assistant Attorney General Rothermel brought it up and asked him about it. Wershe, getting agitated said, “I never saw that document.”

Rothermel proceeded to quiz Wershe, over and over and over about Ferrer’s “admission” that he, Wershe, suggested shipping cocaine in the door panels of cars.

Wershe raised his voice and said, “I never dealt with drugs in prison.” Rothermel told him to calm down.

The Detroit Free Press, always willing in past years to smear Rick Wershe as a “drug lord” and “kingpin” without any evidence to support that libel, had a screaming headline on its Web site after the hearing that Wershe had a “meltdown”! They got over their own hyperventilating "meltdown" and calmed down later, posting a more professional headline.

Wershe did not have a meltdown. He didn’t “lose it.” No one had to restrain him in his seat. Not even close. He did become agitated and verbally combative about a serious charge he had never heard before. This was serious stuff. This was his one shot. His parole hearing. And a lawyer for the state was bringing up something that blindsided Wershe.

The reason he hadn’t heard about it was simple. It was a document of unsubstantiated allegations from a co-defendant who was angling for the best deal he could get. And he got a good one. Probation. No jail time. In the end, the Florida prosecutor apparently concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to bother with this allegation. That’s why Wershe had never heard it before. It was an unsupported allegation in a cop’s affidavit to get criminal charges in a case.

Rothermel showed his real motive, I believe, when he kept stating, repeatedly, “I found this document in the Florida court file. I don’t know why no one else did.” Before long, it became evident his repeated harangue about the document was less about Rick Wershe and more about tweaking the noses of those of us in the media who have lambasted the Attorney General’s Office for sloppiness and negligence in the Wershe case. It was Rothermel’s chance—or so he thought—to get back at the media. “I-I-I” found this, why didn’t anyone else?”

Well, others, myself included, did find it, but disregarded it as an unsupported allegation from a guy looking to get a good plea deal. It happens all the time in law enforcement.

Here’s an excerpt from the probable cause affidavit that Scott Rothermel mistakenly assumed no one else found but him:

Excerpt with highlights from a Florida "Probable Cause" affidavit in Rick Wershe's case in that state.

If the Parole Board reviews the affidavit and the official record in Rick Wershe’s Florida case, they will discover that Mr. Rothermel made an ass of himself over a document with unsupported, unsubstantiated allegations by a criminal looking to get a good deal.

Since Rothermel made such a big deal about “finding” documentation in the Wershe case, it’s time to point out the sloppiness and negligence of his office in a federal lawsuit Wershe has pending against the Michigan Parole Board for violating his civil rights by refusing to grant him parole.

The Attorney General of Michigan is the “lawyer” for the Michigan Parole Board, so the AG’s office is litigating Wershe’s civil rights case.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Michigan Attorney General’s office claimed—falsely—that Rick Wershe, the plaintiff, had been convicted in federal court for possession of gun silencers. They got it wrong, plain and simple.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office has been so determined to find dirt on Richard J. Wershe, Jr. that they cited to a federal court a gun silencer case they attributed to Rick Wershe. If they had done thorough and accurate legal work they would have noticed the case involved his father, Richard J. Wershe, Sr. and not Richard J. Wershe, Sr. His prison file is full of these kinds of sloppy criminal justice "fact" assertions and it has cost him all of his adult life behind bars. 

If the Attorney General’s Office had done what lawyers call due diligence they would have discovered that case involved Rick Wershe’s father—Richard Wershe, SR—and not Richard Wershe, JR. There IS a federal case about gun silencers against a defendant named Richard Wershe, but the Michigan Attorney General got it wrong. They cited the wrong person. The wrong defendant. There is no evidence they have done anything to correct their mistake. Apparently they have a hard time admitting mistakes.

Note to Scott Rothermel: I found this, why didn’t your office? “I-I-I” found this. Why was the Attorney General’s office so sloppy and negligent that you couldn’t find it?

The difference between Rothermel’s big show at the Parole Hearing over the unsubstantiated Probable Cause affidavit that HE found in Florida and what I just pointed out is substantial. Did I mention HE found it? He told us that over and over at the parole hearing. Another note to Scott Rothermel: Good for you! Way to go! Attaboy! Give yourself a gold star.

The error by the Attorney General’s Office in the Wershe civil suit is real, it is factual, it is in the court record. The co-defendant’s claim in Florida about Wershe conspiring to smuggle drugs in the door panels of cars, is not.

Rick Wershe can only hope the Michigan Parole Board can distinguish between Scott Rothermel’s showboating about an irrelevant document—and fact.

The next step in the Wershe parole process is for a stenographer to type up the entire four hours of his parole hearing. Copies of the transcript will be given to the full 10-member Parole Board and they will vote, in July or August, on whether to grant him parole. Six of the 10 members must vote to grant parole.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wershe has his Parole Hearing at last.

Richard J. Wershe Jr., Michigan's longest - serving prison inmate for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a juvenile, had a hearing before the Michigan Parole Board today. Overall it went well. Here's a brief recap. A more detailed report will be in the next blog  installment on June 18:

Rick Wershe Jr. Answered questions, admitted guilt and gave a full and granular - detail accounting of his brief life of crime and longer life as a confidential FBI informant, beginning at age 14, in a very detailed exploration of his saga in questioning by an assistant state attorney-general. Wershe answered questions from 9:00 am until 1:10pm, with a brief 10-minute potty break in between. 

Wershe got agitated by questions about allegations made against him by a police informant in Florida, but generally answered questions smoothly.

"I've lost 30 years of my life," he told the two Board members present for the hearing. I messed up. I'm sorry."

An official transcript of the hearing will be prepared, and after a review, the full Board will vote up or down on parole. The vote is expected some time this summer. 

More in the next blog posting. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Moment of Truth for White Boy Rick: Richard Wershe’s Parole Hearing Is At Hand

The years of waiting are over. On Thursday, June 8, 2017, the Michigan Parole Board will hold a public hearing on the issue of parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—the longest serving inmate for a non-violent drug crime committed as a juvenile. Wershe has been locked up for 29 years, the victim of a criminal justice system vendetta against someone who told on the wrong people—people in political power. Here’s what to expect:

The day Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has dreamed about, prayed for, longed for, will arrive later this week. After 29 years in prison on a life sentence for possession of cocaine, Wershe will get his first meaningful chance at parole. The Michigan Parole Board has voted to consider granting him parole.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - Hoping for parole after 29 years. (MDOC photo)

He had a parole hearing in 2003, but that was a sham, a go-through-the-motions kangaroo court staged to give the appearance of a consideration of parole. It was far from it.

The Michigan criminal justice system—from Detroit to Lansing—was furious that Wershe had told the FBI about political and police drug corruption in Detroit. Wershe had told the feds how the late Gil Hill, the former Inspector in charge of Homicide and later Detroit City Council President, had been paid off by the Johnny Curry drug gang to ensure a homicide investigation did not find the true killers of a 13-year old boy, Damion Lucas, who had been killed mistakenly by two members of the Curry organization.

For a $10-thousand-dollar bribe, Hill focused the investigation on an innocent man, who was released after months of intense behind-the-scenes intrigue between the FBI, the Detroit Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. The Detroit Police Department, through Hill and other top command personnel, obstructed justice to protect the Curry gang because Johnny Curry was married to the niece of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, one of the most powerful and feared politicians in the city’s history. In 2003, the powers-that-be manipulated Wershe’s parole hearing to ensure he stayed in prison. It was retribution for daring to tell the FBI about the sewer of corruption flowing through Detroit’s criminal justice system. The 1985 Damion Lucas killing has never been solved and prosecuted.

None of that will matter on Thursday. This parole hearing is sure to be different. The first thing to know is this: no decision is expected that day. There will be no immediate vote on parole for Wershe. The full board will be given a written transcript of the hearing and the full board will vote after considering the transcript. The full board has to vote. That’s the way it is in lifer cases.

The only expected witness is Wershe himself. Two members of the Parole Board, chair Michael Eagen and Member Sharon Wilson, will conduct the hearing. An assistant state attorney general will ask questions. The Michigan Attorney General is the official lawyer for the Parole Board.

Wershe is expected to be contrite and remorseful. He will tell the Board he was brought up in a dysfunctional family with no meaningful parental supervision. His parents divorced after a stormy, violent marriage. Wershe’s mother left Rick and his sister Dawn with their father, a man with a violent temper and dreams of becoming a self-made millionaire. Success eluded him and he was seldom home. 

When the FBI came around looking to recruit 14-year old Ricky to be a secret informant against the Curry drug gang, Richard Wershe, Sr. readily agreed to let his son enter a dangerous arrangement no responsible and caring parent would accept. Rick’s late father saw an opportunity to make another quick buck.

Wershe is expected to recite all of this to the Parole Board as he did in 2003. "I really didn't have any parental supervision at the time," Wershe testified 14 years ago. "I was basically raising myself and I went down some wrong paths."

If Wershe is bitter toward his parents, he hides it, for the most part. But there is no doubt he understands he is, in a sense, a victim of his childhood. "I went down the wrong path and I grew up in prison" he testified in 2003. "I had no one there to guide me other than older people who were all criminals their selves."

The Parole Board will hear or read in reports that Wershe has been what amounts to a model prisoner. He doesn’t get in trouble and strives to get along with everyone. He got his high-school diploma equivalency while he was behind bars. He has taken every course and counseling opportunity provided to him.

The Parole Board won’t hear testimony about how federal and local narcs in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) used their teen informant and then kicked him to the curb when they made their case against the Curry gang. 

Wershe was suddenly without a source of money and without a viable trade. He turned to the only trade he knew. 
The one law enforcement had taught him. He tried to become a big-time drug dealer—and got caught before he could make the big leagues.                                                         

The media helped bury him behind bars by relentlessly calling him White Boy Rick. Gullible reporters bought the dubious prosecution tale that this white kid somehow ruled the roost in Detroit's murderous drug trade; that prison-hardened adult black men were taking orders from a white kid who couldn't even grow a decent moustache. Newspaper and TV reporters never questioned the evidence for the claim that Wershe was a "drug lord" and a "kingpin." The image of a white teen Godfather of drugs in the black ghetto was too sensational to ignore.

Wershe is expected to say he understands the gravity of his brief life of crime. He is expected to say he has done all he can to prepare for life on the outside. He has lots of people willing to help him and he doesn’t lack for employment opportunities. Hollywood has become interested in him thanks to a movie about his strange tale, that is now in production.

Wershe’s attorney, Ralph Musilli, hopes the hearing will be brief. That means less pages that have to be transcribed. That means the full Parole Board can vote sooner, perhaps at their meeting in July.                                                 

Maybe the legend of White Boy Rick is about to end.
Maybe the rest of the life of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is about to begin.


Parole Hearing for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.
Date: June 8, 2017
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility
the T-100 Training Center (limited seating available)
Address: 3500 N. Elm Rd. Jackson, MI 49201
This is a correctional facility with commensurate security measures. Cell phones and recording devices will not be permitted.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jeff Sessions wants more Rick Wershes in our nation’s prisons

Earlier this month, tucked between the daily scandals and Constitutional crises emanating from the White House, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a plan that will cost additional tax dollars. He’s ordered federal prosecutors around the country to get tough again on crime, across the board. Punishment to the max. Go for the toughest sentence possible, no matter what the crime or the circumstances. Leniency will require special permission. This policy flies in the face of national crime and punishment trends and prevailing public views on imprisonment. But for Sessions and others like him, it makes no difference. It’s the kind of prosecution attitude that landed a kid named Richard Wershe in prison for life.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has never walked the streets as an adult. He’s been in prison for 29 years for a non-violent drug dealing conviction from an arrest when he was 17 years old. 

Drug hit men who have murdered multiple victims have been tried, convicted, sentenced, imprisoned and released in the time Wershe has been in prison. He’s been described as a model prisoner, yet he’s been kept behind bars as a result of a law enforcement vendetta. Wershe was an informant for the FBI and he told on the wrong people. He told the feds about corruption involving politically powerful cops and the brother-in-law of Detroit’s former mayor, Coleman Young. He’s paid a horrific price.

Wershe could be a poster child for the argument against mandatory minimum sentences. Yet, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to return to that kind of sentencing at the federal level. More on that in a moment.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to fill these up again.

The United States continues to throw far more of its people in prison than any other civilized nation with no evidence we are more law abiding as a result. I’ve borrowed a chart from the Prison Policy Initiative because it’s so startling. You are encouraged to look at this chart and other data on their Web site:

There is a segment of this nation that is hateful and vindictive and rigid in its view of punishment for crime. As the Guardian of London newspaper put it, “Americans like to punish.” The British paper says America, or a significant segment of it, is “addicted to punishment.”

This isn’t entirely accurate or fair. A public opinionsurvey last year by the respected Pew Charitable Trusts found six in ten Americans believe there are too many drug offenders in our nation’s prisons. The same survey found an overwhelming majority of Americans—79 percent—agree mandatory minimum sentences should be abolished and judges should be given latitude to let the punishment fit the crime.

Then there’s U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his ilk. Sessions is a vengeful throw-the-book-at-‘em kind of prosecutor, even though there’s no evidence this has any effect on the crime rate. In fact, the evidence suggests just the opposite.

As a nation, we have been moving toward a more balanced and reasoned view of crime and punishment. Are we in greater danger as a result? No. The overall national crime rate is trending—down. Survey and statistical compilations by the Pew Charitable Trusts, show violent crime in the United States is down sharply in a trend that has continued over the past quarter century! It’s not down some piddling amount, either. The FBI’s annual compilation of crime statistics from police and sheriff’s departments nationwide show violent crime fell by fifty percent—50%!!—between 1993 and 2015. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) regularly surveys 90 thousand households about crime issues. During that same time frame, the BJS surveys show Americans believe violent crime declined by 77 percent.

Property crime is down over the long term, too.

In announcing a return to a policy of the past, Sessions claimed the homicide rate is on the rise. Like the claims of many politicians, there’s a nugget of truth in what he says. Homicide rates are climbing—in some cities. But overall, crime is in decline nationwide.

It appears Sessions is pandering to roughly a third of the American public that mindlessly supports every politician who speechifies that we need to “get tough on crime.” This same third of the population usually makes the most noise about hating—absolutely hating—to pay taxes. Duh. Do these simpletons think prisons are free? Where do they think the money comes from to keep the prisons running? I’m assuming here that these people think. That may be a reckless assumption on my part.

Careful observers of the War on Drugs might note Sessions and his cohorts and predecessors never ever ever try to stop the flow of the money of the international drug trade. That would mean putting some bankers in jail. Good luck with that. Name me one banker or financial industry tycoon who has been prosecuted for enabling the massive flow of illegal drugs by taking a cut of the action to keep the cartels in business. That’s why the War on Drugs is such a costly failure. It’s easier to give the appearance of doing something by arresting and prosecuting the bottom feeders, the lowest part of the illegal drugs pipeline. You can be sure all the “kingpins” and “drug lords” the DEA, FBI, U.S. Customs and thousands of local police narcs have locked up are essentially bottom feeders who sit in our prisons while their replacements push dope as fast as they can until they, too, get caught.

Corrections, the prison system, gobbles up about 20 percent of the Michigan state budget. That’s a huge amount of money. In Michigan, it costs about $40 thousand tax dollars per year to keep someone locked up in prison. Federal prisons are a little cheaper at a little over 29 thousand dollars-per-inmate, according to 2015 data, but that cost is multiplied by several hundred thousand prisoners. Is it tax money well spent?

Well, sometimes. It’s true there are repeat offenders—recidivism is the term the experts use—who will never be rehabilitated, who can never live within society’s norms and boundaries and rules. Serial killers come to mind. These sociopaths and psychopaths need to be locked up. But they are a minority of the prison population.

Others may need to be locked up, but not for decades or for life. They need a carefully developed and supervised path back to the outside. It’s going to be hard because society brands them with a Scarlet C forever. They’re ex-cons and ex-cons always have a challenge becoming useful citizens because society and the economy tend to shun them. It’s hard to be law abiding when no one will give you a chance.

But dope dealers? Eh. That’s a tough issue. The standard line from prosecutors and police chiefs is, harsh penalties are a deterrent. Oh, really? As soon as the narcs bust some big “kingpin” or “drug lord” there’s someone else standing on the street corner, so to speak, taking their place. The ink isn’t even dry on the court paperwork for the dethroned kingpin before his replacement is slinging dope in his place.  

Like Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s, the War on Drugs is a colossal failure. You don’t think so? Then explain why the cost of cocaine is down.  The illegal drug trade is the ultimate supply-and-demand business and the never-ending police drug busts have been such a failure at reducing the flow of illegal drugs that there’s a glut of cocaine on the streets.

In the meantime, throwbacks like Attorney General Sessions want to spend more tax dollars sending drug dealers to prison. No one in law enforcement, from Sessions on down to the lowest narc, can credibly argue that the War on Drugs has been anything but a failure.

As Ralph Musilli, Rick Wershe’s attorney puts it, the War on Drugs is like trying to fight a termite infestation one termite at a time.

About now, some narc wants to challenge me by saying something like, ‘So what’s the answer? Let ‘em sell all the drugs they want?’

Well, no. But we haven’t tried demand reduction. Every western country treats drug abuse as a medical/social problem that needs serious public resources (tax dollars) devoted to demand reduction. The dealers can’t deal if the customers disappear. But we haven’t tried that because of what the British newspaper called our punishment addiction. That, and the fact that drug enforcement is a cash cow for many police departments due to draconian forfeiture laws and procedures. 

It’s widely believed that Albert Einstein once defined insanity as going the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. That could be applied to the War on Drugs. The cops and prosecutors keep crowing about this week’s drug bust of the century. “We really got ‘em this time!” Yes, of course you did.

There is a not-too-bright, gullible segment of the population that believes this nonsense. The law enforcement fairy tale about the War on Drugs endures.