Sunday, April 23, 2017

As Rick Wershe’s Parole Fate Looms, Bogus “Facts” come out of the woodwork.


The news media, and many in the public, are finally paying attention to the story of Richard J. Wershe, Jr., a man known to many only as White Boy Rick. He’s been in prison for 29 years of a life sentence for non-violent possession of a box of cocaine when he was a juvenile. In response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Michigan has paroled or allowed the re-sentencing of every inmate charged under circumstances similar to Wershe; a juvenile non-violent offender. Every inmate, that is, except Rick Wershe. He has been in prison longer than some murderers, because he told the FBI about politically connected police corruption in Detroit. As his attorney says, he told on the wrong people. In a very real sense he’s a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment is part of a vendetta by a corrupt criminal justice system in Michigan. With the newfound attention to the Wershe case, there are claims of “facts” that simply aren’t true. This blog post will profile one example.

One day recently, retired Detroit Police Sgt. John Simon was interviewed by WDIV-TV, Channel 4 in Detroit and he claimed he was Rick Wershe’s arresting officer and that he now believes Michigan’s longest-serving juvenile prison inmate doing time for a drug case doesn’t deserve his harsh sentence.

It sounds good, but there’s one problem: the tale Simon told the TV station doesn’t match the official court record from Rick Wershe’s 1988 Recorders Court trial. I have the trial transcript, all 32 pounds of it. I’m going to share a bit of it in this blog post. I will focus on the opening argument of the prosecutor. I expended considerable effort to obtain the Wershe trial transcript for a book I am writing about Rick Wershe and the War on Drugs.



Cover page from a volume of the transcript of the Rick Wershe, Jr. drug trial in 1988.

  
One of Rick Wershe’s enduring problems over the years has been bogus information reported as fact in the media. It has contributed to his reputation—a legend—and like most legends, a lot of it isn’t true. Judges, prosecutors—and Parole Board members—read or watch this stuff, just like everyone else, and it makes an impression. Often, it’s a bad impression that isn’t supported by the facts.

Some of what Simon told the TV station is correct, such as his observation that young Rick Wershe was known to the police. As a young teen, Rick Wershe, Jr. was on the wild side. In blunt terms, he was a juvenile delinquent with no parental supervision. His parents were divorced, his father had custody of Rick and his sister, Dawn, but Richard Wershe Sr. was seldom around. Rick Wershe, Jr. raised himself, for the most part. His lifelong friend, Dave Majkowski, who manages the Free Richard Wershe Jr. Facebook page, says they were always getting stopped by the police for shooting BB guns or setting off fireworks.

Channel 4 quotes Sgt. Simon as saying Rick Wershe was no kingpin. He likened Wershe to an errand boy for the real big-time dope dealers. The statement that Wershe was no kingpin is true. The report quoting Sgt. Simon gets in trouble when the retired cop talks about the facts of the Wershe drug case.

The station reported on its web site: "But on May 22, 1987, Simon said Wershe had 8 kilos of cocaine and a bag of cash."

This is false.

Rick Wershe was a passenger in a car that was pulled over near his home on Hampshire St. on Detroit’s east side by uniformed Police Officers Rodney Grandison and Jeffrey Clyburn. The car, the officers said, had been speeding through a residential neighborhood. When the officers approached the car, Wershe and the driver, Roy Grisson, got out of the vehicle.

Robert Healy, the prosecutor on the Wershe case, told the jury in his opening statement:

"...When Grandison gets up alongside the driver's window what he sees on the floor on the passenger’s side is...one of those shopping bags...not the paper kind, but the plastic kind—and it is stuffed full of money to the point where that plastic is stretched thin enough so that you can actually see the money through the plastic."

Regarding the stated reason for the traffic stop, Rick Wershe has asked a rhetorical question on several occasions: why, he asks, would we be speeding, risking police attention, with a large amount of money in the car? He's not disputing there was a bag of money in the car. He's questioning whether the police made up a reason for doing the traffic stop. In other words, he encourages observers to wonder if the police lied about their reason for doing the traffic stop. This implies they were lying in wait, that they were determined to arrest Rick Wershe and invent a charge if need be.

The money wasn't in Rick Wershe's possession. It was on the floorboard of the car. It could have belonged to Rick's friend, Roy Grisson. Or to someone else entirely. Being near a bag of cash doesn't mean you have it in your possession. 

Wershe was standing outside the car when Officer Grandison sees the bag of money on the floorboard of the vehicle. It may seem to be a small point, but in a trial where the sentence is mandatory life, it is not a small thing.

Healy doesn’t mention any drugs to the jury because, at this point in the incident, there’s no sign of any drugs. But, according to Sgt. Simon, as quoted by the TV station: Wershe had 8 kilos of cocaine and a bag of cash."

"Police said Wershe was carrying two bags, one filled with money, one filled with drugs," the TV station reported.

This is wrong on both counts. As noted above, Wershe was not carrying the bag of cash at any time during the incident with the police. It was on the floorboard of the car and it was grabbed by his father and sister in a scuffle with the police, not by Rick Wershe. And he did not have a bag of dope. Period. As we shall see, the police claim the drugs were in a large box, not a bag. And they never actually saw Rick Wershe with the box, a fact the prosecuting attorney admitted to the jury.

It should be noted Assistant Prosecutor Healy’s opening statement to the jury was not exactly a recitation of facts and truth, either. Healy misled the jury because the police misled him. 

Healy claimed the police officers didn’t know Rick Wershe, Jr.

"They will testify they don't know young Wershe from anybody. They never saw him before, didn't recognize him," Healy told the jury. 

That is flat-out false, but Healy didn't know it because the police lied to the trial prosecutor, too. The officer who arrested Wershe knew him and knew him well. That officer lied under oath on the witness stand. There's proof.

After Wershe went to prison, the FBI approached him and asked him to help them with a covert sting operation intended to catch corrupt cops. As part of the discussion, Rick Wershe told FBI Special Agent Herman Groman that Officer Grandison had committed perjury—lied—when he testified at the Wershe trial that he didn’t know the young man he had arrested.

Agent Groman arranged with prison officials to have Wershe make a tape recorded call to Officer Grandison at his home. It was a pretext call that lasted 15 or 20 minutes. It is quite evident from the recorded conversation that Wershe and Grandison were/are well acquainted. Wershe says Officer Grandison invited him to his home on a number of occasions to smoke weed, before Wershe was arrested by Grandison in May of 1987.

Grandison was not indicted in the FBI police corruption case and the Michigan Court of Appeals was not interested in considering Wershe’s appeal, even though the FBI had audio tape evidence that Officer Grandison committed a felony and gave false testimony under oath at the Wershe drug trial.  

Let’s return to Healy’s opening statement of “facts” to the jury.

Healy told the jury Rick Wershe had simply walked away from the scuffle taking place next to the car and walked between two houses to a residence in the next block. Officer Grandison follows Rick Wershe, according to Healy's statement to the jury:

"Grandison goes out between the houses onto Camden and he sees over here (pointing to a diagram) on the north side of Camden the defendant (Wershe) who is in the front yard of that address and he is at the front porch. Grandison then goes over and arrests the defendant, and takes the defendant back to Hampshire."

There is no mention of Sgt. John Simon by Healy. In fact, he was not on the witness list for the trial at all; a strange omission if he had arrested Rick Wershe that night. In fact, as Healy told the jury, Grandison was the arresting officer.

Assistant Prosecutor Healy told the jury they would hear testimony from a neighborhood woman named Patricia Storey who would say she saw Wershe on Camden St. carrying a large box, “a whisky case sized box.”

Healy made a point of it:

"Now, that's the first mention you're going to hear from any witness who testifies in this case of a box of that description," Healy told the jurors. He continued: “There's no mention of seeing a box of that description in the car that is stopped by Grandison and Clyburn, and you’re not going to hear any testimony from a witness who knows where the box came from. So, you might as well get used to that idea right now."

The Wershe trial transcript stands in contrast to the recent TV station report that, “Wershe was carrying two bags, one filled with money, one filled with drugs,"

Over the years, Detroit’s newspapers and other TV stations have routinely reported things like, “Wershe was busted with 8 kilos of dope” or “Wershe was caught with a large stash of dope.” 

Compare this with the trial prosecutor’s statement to the jury: “you’re not going to hear any testimony from a witness who knows where the box came from.”

Channel 4 quotes Sgt. Simon as saying the eight kilos of cocaine related to the Wershe arrest “filled up the front seat of my car."
Here again, Sgt. Simon’s story is totally at odds with the trial record.

Assistant Prosecutor Healy told the jury a box was found in the back yard of a house on Camden, a block away from the Wershe traffic stop, and James Storey, the head of the household, was fearful when he realized the box contained packages of cocaine.

Healy says Storey called the police precinct, attempting to provide an anonymous tip. But, curiously, Healy told the jury that Detroit narcs assigned to a joint task force with the DEA were notified to come to the precinct police station before there is a call about a box of dope:

"...and they respond to (the Precinct) and they are there at the time this phone call comes in."

Hmm. Really? Let's break this down and think about it.

Why were the Task Force cops notified to come to the police precinct? By Healy's own statement to the jury, up to this point the cops have the Wershe family in custody, a bag of cash, but no dope. Just a bag of cash. Who the cash belongs to hasn't been established and, in any event, having a bag of cash is not a crime.

According to Prosecutor Healy, the phone call about "the box" is just coming in, but the special Task Force narcs are there when it happens, for some unknown reason. 

So why were the Task Force narcs notified to appear at the police Precinct station before there was any indication drugs were involved in this arrest? It took them some time to get to the precinct station. Yet they were there when the call from James Storey came in, reporting a box of dope had been found. It is reasonable to wonder why a special Task Force team of narcs would be called to come to the precinct station, since there were no drugs involved at that point. Wershe’s defense attorney didn’t challenge it. Neither did the judge.

There are many things in Wershe's drug trial that don't add up. It was not, as they say, a slam-dunk case. If Wershe had had better defense counsel he likely wouldn't be in prison today.

Healy continued his opening statement to the jury: 

"(The) members of this Task Force, they go to Storey's house. And they get there, and as they pull up, Mr. Storey comes out (of) the door and he's got the box. The box is taken by police officer Greg Woods of the Detroit Police Department Narcotics Section."

Compare that to Sgt. Simon’s recent TV interview statement: (the 8 kilos) "filled up the front seat of my car."

If that were true Sgt. Simon would have, without question, been a trial witness. He wasn’t. Prosecutor Healy said Detroit Police narcotics officer Greg Woods took custody of the box of narcotics. 

There is an issue in criminal law called chain of custody. Sgt. John Simon’s claim that the box of drugs "filled up the front seat of my car" would have been a chain of custody issue. He would have been called to testify what he did with the dope after it "filled up the front seat" of his police patrol car. Simon's claim is not supported by the trial record.

All of this is not to say Sgt. Simon wasn’t at the scene that night. As a patrol sergeant, he did make the scene. Rick Wershe says that much is accurate and he even claims his sister, Dawn, spit at Simon during the confrontation in the street. Simon apparently joined a bunch of other cops who responded to calls for help from Officers Grandison and Clyburn. Simon may have been there that night, but the trial transcript shows he has, um, embellished his role to a considerable degree for a TV interview. He didn't arrest Wershe and he didn't have custody of the box of drugs.

Two other items worth noting:

  • The Detroit Police 911 recording system just happened to malfunction at the time the James Storey call about the box of dope came in to the police precinct desk, or so the police claim. That was their explanation for why they couldn’t produce a tape of the phone call about the box of drugs at trial.
  • Rick Wershe’s fingerprints and palm prints were not found anywhere on the box containing the eight kilos of cocaine. Nor were his prints found on the packages of cocaine.



Reporters and editors are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. I’m regarded by some as a jerk and far worse for pointing out falsehoods reported as fact in the Wershe saga. But journalistic errors and mistakes have real-world consequences. The media-fueled legend of White Boy Rick has been largely responsible for keeping Richard J. Wershe, Jr. in prison for nearly 30 years.

It's a fact that Channel 4's Kevin Dietz has done a far better job than most Detroit reporters - print and broadcast - in reporting on Rick Wershe. The others know it. They watch and read his stuff. They have a habit of copying his reporting, rearranging a few words, and acting like it's their own reporting. 

Here's why it matters: if Channel 4 reports Rick Wershe had a bag of cash and a bag of dope when he was arrested, a whole bunch of other "reporters" are going to spread that around and add to the deeply flawed White Boy Rick legend. It's called herd journalism or pack journalism and it has damaged Rick Wershe badly over the years. 

Over the course of nearly 90 blog posts Informant America has shown over and over that routine media descriptions of “White Boy Rick” as a “drug lord” and “kingpin” are not supported by any facts. These false descriptions have had a corrosive effect on public opinion and that has deprived a man of his freedom for most of his adult life.




Richard J. Wershe, Jr. (Michigan Dept. of Corrections photo)


For his part, Rick Wershe tries to look on the positive side and tries to get along with a growing number of very competitive reporters who are interested in his story. 

When I sent Wershe an email telling him about the fact-challenged interview with Sgt. Simon, Wershe replied, "...either way it's another cop saying i (sic) was not what they made me out to be!!!"

True.

The Michigan Parole Board, on June 8th, is going to give Rick Wershe serious consideration for parole for the first time in nearly three decades. They've scheduled a public hearing in Jackson, Michigan. It’s about time reporters get the story straight.



Friday, April 14, 2017

‘I am 50% Up the Mountain!’ – Rick Wershe reacts to Parole Board Decision

This is a special edition of Informant America. Today the Michigan Parole Board voted to grant Rick Wershe a public hearing regarding a possible parole. It will be the first time he’s been this close to release from his life prison term since 2003.

Rick Wershe got good news on Good Friday. Credit for that observation goes to retired FBI agent Gregg Schwarz, Rick Wershe’s longtime supporter and life coach.



Rick Wershe, Jr. - a chance - at last


The Michigan Parole Board has moved one formal step closer to granting Wershe parole from his life sentence for possession of about 8 pounds of cocaine when he was 17 years old. Wershe is Michigan’s last imprisoned life-sentence inmate for a non-violent drug conviction when he was a juvenile. By voting to hold a public hearing, the Board has signaled it is open to considering parole for inmate Wershe.

Wershe, as you might imagine, is over-the-moon happy, but still cautious. “I’m 50% up the mountain!” he says. “Now we just need to get up the other 50%!”

The Parole Board, exercising its bureaucratic authority, reminded everyone who is in charge. They did not specify the hearing date. They told Wershe they’d mail the date to him. Go figure. The location wasn’t announced, either. In the past, the Parole Board has held public hearings for inmate cases in Jackson, Ionia and Detroit.

What we know is the hearing will be at least thirty days from now. That is established procedure in all cases.

A hearing in parole cases is scheduled to give both sides of the question a chance to respond publicly. In cases where an inmate is serving time for murder, for example, the public hearing gives the victim’s family an opportunity to express their opinion on whether the killer should be released. And the inmate’s family and friends get a chance to speak, too.

In the Rick Wershe hearing, he and his attorney, Ralph Musilli, will decide who to put on the witness list. It is not a free-for-all. The Wayne County Prosecutor will be given a chance to object, but Prosecutor Kym Worthy signaled last fall that she was “reconsidering” her position regarding parole for Wershe. Her “side”—law enforcement—may not say anything at all.

That would be in sharp contrast to Wershe's last parole public hearing in 2003, which amounted to a kangaroo court sham intended to keep him in prison. Perjury and conflicting testimony by law enforcement abounded and the Parole Board of that era did nothing about it. That won't happen this time. Wershe and his attorney will be ready for that, should his enemies try that again.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has been in prison for 29 years, longer than many admitted paid killers. The major drug dealers he helped the FBI put in prison were released years ago.
  


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Points to Ponder While waiting for the Parole Board Decision on parole for Rick Wershe, Jr.

The injustice of the imprisonment of Richard Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—is slowly but steadily gaining public attention through various media stories. Wershe is awaiting word on whether the Michigan Parole Board will consider him for parole soon. He's in the 29th year of a life prison term for a non-violent drug conviction.  This post is a redacted and updated reprint of a previous piece on July 12, 2015.

Rick Wershe, Jr. still needs your help in his battle for justice. His prospects are looking good but he's been disappointed before. He needs his growing public support to continue. 

It's time for Michigan politicians to get involved in Rick Wershe's case.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The story of Richard Wershe Jr.’s life sentence for being a teenaged, non-violent drug dealer (that’s what he was) is as much about the politics of crime as it is about crime. Reading this, keep the notion of politics and “We, the people” in mind. Wikipedia says politics is from the Greek word politikos. That is, of, for or relating to citizens.

Rick Wershe helped the FBI put corrupt Detroit cops in prison and put the spotlight on some who should be behind bars. A strong case can be made that Rick Wershe is still in prison because of a Detroit political vendetta. There are some in Detroit who want to keep him in prison until he dies. 

At the time Rick Wershe was convicted—1988—Michigan had a law mandating a life sentence for anyone convicted in a case involving over 650 grams of cocaine. That's about a pound and a half. Rick’s prosecution involved eight pounds of cocaine. His trial judge, Thomas Jackson, had no choice once the jury reached its guilty verdict. Rick Wershe was sentenced to mandatory life.

In 1992, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law, which was, at that time, the toughest in the nation. The justices ruled the 1978 law was "unduly disproportionate" to the crime. They concluded it violated the State Constitution. Former Michigan Governor William Milliken has been quoted as saying signing the 650 mandatory life law was “the worst mistake of my career.”

All inmates convicted under that harsh law who were NOT involved in a violent crime, and who were juveniles when they were convicted, have been released from prison; all except one: Richard Wershe, Jr.

If, as the evidence suggests, Rick Wershe is in prison for political vendetta reasons the people of Michigan should ask and keep asking some hard questions about wasting tax dollars to satisfy a vendetta by some Detroit criminal “justice” advocates.

It’s costing Michigan taxpayers about $44,000 per year to keep Rick Wershe, Jr. in prison for helping the FBI prosecute corruption in Detroit. He’s been behind bars since 1988. That means the taxpayers have paid about one million dollars—give or take a hundred-thousand bucks here or there—to punish Wershe under the totally false premise that he was—and remains—a menace to society.

Some months ago I filed a request under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for Rick Wershe’s “disciplinary” file from the Oaks Correctional Facility where he is serving his life sentence. My request was officially denied…because... no such file exists. A prison official told me Rick Wershe is as close to a “model” prisoner as there is.

There is no question violent criminals, especially repeat offenders, need to be in prison for very long sentences and in some cases, life. But Rick Wershe was never involved in violent crime. He never ordered anyone killed. He never hurt anyone. Yet, he remains in prison while over the years multiple-murder killers -hitmen - have been set free by the Michigan Parole Board.

An interesting thing has happened in Michigan politics in recent times. People who once loudly proclaimed their devotion to law-and-order are beginning to wonder if a broad-brush, lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key policy is such a good idea. It’s not that they’ve been hit with a compassion stick all of a sudden. It’s about money—the waste of tax money.

That kind of tough-on-crime posturing comes with a hefty price tag. No less a conservative than Newt Gingrich says it is money wasted. Gingrich has been preaching prison reform from California to Georgia, from Alabama to Michigan, Gingrich has been penning op-ed articles in local papers arguing the time has come to quit wasting tax dollars incarcerating non-violent criminals.

Writing about the Michigan prison system in the Detroit Free Press in November, 2014, Gingrich asked:

“Are taxpayers getting their money's worth from the program?
When it comes to our criminal justice system, the answer is a resounding no. We are not getting the public safety that our billions should be providing us. In state after state, we have overused imprisonment, even for low-risk offenders.”

Taking aim at Michigan specifically, Newt Gingrich went on:

“The state's correctional system churns through $2 billion (emphasis added) each year, and now consumes $1 out of every $5 of the general fund. And because of broad parole board discretion and complicated sentencing guidelines, people incarcerated in Michigan serve longer prison terms, on average, than any other state in the nation.
This approach might be justified if it was making us safer, but that's not the case.”

The way to quit wasting tax money on Rick Wershe is to set him free. His case needs to be front and center in the ongoing political discussion on prison spending. Rest assured it will be one of the campaign issues in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Current Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Tea Party darling who loathes taxes but has spent most of his adult life living off taxpayer money, is itching to become governor. And he has fought Rick Wershe in federal court in behalf of the Michigan prison system. 

If Schuette gets elected it seems likely he will try to make a national name for himself being being the nastiest, cruelest, let-anyone-not-in-the-Tea-Party-die politician in the country.
Any Democrat smart enough to hammer Shuette's weaknesses would do well to remind him of the Rick Wershe case and shove these facts up his legal briefs: 
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never involved in violent crime.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. never had a drug gang.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. never operated crack houses.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never indicted or charged federally or locally with conspiracy, the crime related to drug trafficking organizations.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never named as an unindicted co-conspirator in any Detroit federal drug case. His name never even came up in the Curry Brothers case, the Chambers Brothers case, the Best Friends case or any other major drug and murder trial in Detroit.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never charged with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, known as the federal “drug kingpin” law. If he was a “kingpin” or “drug lord” why wasn’t he charged as such?

Informant America has been reciting these facts about Rick Wershe for two years. Some in the media have just discovered them and try to pretend they are revealing some "news."

Whatever.

It’s true that Wershe—also known as White Boy Rick—was notorious in Detroit for a few months in the late 80s. But that was a result of shoddy, disgraceful reporting by the Detroit news media. The smearing of Richard Wershe, Jr. by the Detroit newspapers and television stations in 1987-88 is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of journalism in Detroit. As a former Detroit TV news reporter I don’t say that lightly. It’s a sad fact that reporters who branded him a drug lord and drug kingpin never bothered to ask for the evidence behind these law enforcement lies masquerading as fact. Look at the bullet point above and ask yourself; why didn't any reporter look to find out if the police and prosecutors were telling the truth about Rick Wereshe? You already know the answer.


If you believe the Wershe case is a grave injustice in our criminal justice system, and a symptom of larger problems, you need to pay attention next year, an election year, and not just now that Rick Wershe may finally get some delayed justice. Rick Wershe is a symptom of a much bigger disease in Michigan's criminal justice system.










Sunday, March 26, 2017

White Boy Rick movie filming begins; Rick Wershe waits for Parole Board Decision

Rick Wershe still hasn’t heard from the Michigan Parole Board on whether they will consider a parole from his life sentence in a non-violent drug case. Meanwhile, the cameras are rolling on a film based on his story.

They didn’t have time to get to his case at their monthly meeting. That’s the story coming from the Michigan Parole Board, which was supposed to consider moving forward on the process of granting Richard J. Wershe, Jr. parole after 29 years in prison for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a teenager.

They were supposed to consider the Wershe case at the March 10th meeting of the Michigan Parole Board. But gosh darn it all, they just ran out of time, they say. So, they’ll take it up next month at their monthly meeting on April 14th.

Telling it like it is, the Parole Board is under pending court pressure because Wershe has been treated differently than every other Michigan inmate charged with a non-violent drug crime as a juvenile. Every one of them has been given parole consideration—except Rick Wershe. That’s cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


Richard J. Wershe, Jr. (Photo: Michigan Dept. of Corrections)




Wershe has several cases against the State of Michigan cooking in federal courts.

In addition, media interest in his case has been growing, aided in no small part by the fact Hollywood has discovered the Rick Wershe story and they are making a movie about it.

But appearances count in politics and public agencies and the Michigan Parole Board don't want to appear to be succumbing to pressure. So…Rick Wershe continues to wait to hear about a possible parole.

***

They love Rick Wershe in Cleveland. More specifically, the Greater Cleveland Film Commission and a growing community of film production professionals in Cleveland love Rick Wershe because the movie about him is being filmed there. Production is now underway. Why Cleveland? Why not Detroit, where the story occurred?

It's all about money. States vie for movie projects these days with tax incentives and financial rebates.The State of Ohio and the City of Cleveland are working to attract Hollywood feature productions through financial incentives for the filmmakers. 

The State of Michigan, in its wisdom, decided not to compete in the film production arena. 

In the summer of 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill to end Michigan’s incentive program for film productions. The program was bringing in about $225 million annually in Michigan spending by movie companies. Apparently, that was chump change to Lansing. The state opted instead to give billions of dollars in tax incentives to the Big Three automakers to please, please, please build new factories in Michigan and, oh please, oh pretty please, don’t take the money, create temporary jobs and later replace the human workers with robots.

And there’s no point talking about the millions upon millions in tax incentives heaped on billionaire pro sports team owners to build yet another new stadium or arena where they can suck up even more millions from the entertainment-starved locals. But I digress.

The bottom line, to use an overworked phrase, is Cleveland and Ohio offered a 30% incentive to shoot the film there. Detroit and Michigan offered 2%. You don't have to be a math whiz to figure out where the movie people decided to take their business. 

Ivan Schwarz, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, says Rick Wershe has, in a way, helped the economy of his city.

"Millions of dollars are going to be spent in our state, creating jobs and creating economic development for a city that really needs it,” Schwarz told me. “It’s sort of ironic that his War on Drugs story turns out to be an economic boon for the film industry in Ohio.”

Schwarz says Ohio, like several other states, is actively courting Hollywood to shoot movies in their cities and countryside and, he argues, giving the production companies tax and rebate packages pays dividends.

"(The White Boy Rick film has) a significant budget with significant talent that is shooting in this state and creating real jobs and putting real food on people’s tables," Schwarz says. "Really, that’s what it’s about. The trickle down is huge.”

Alas, political pooh-bahs of Michigan don’t see it that way, so the cameras are rolling in Cleveland.



Matthew McConaughey (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


Matthew McConaughey has the starring role in the movie as Rick Wershe’s father, Richard Wershe, Sr.


Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie (Photos: Wikimedia Commons)



Veteran actor Bruce Dern will play the part of Rick Wershe’s grandfather and actress Piper Laurie has the role of his grandmother. Wershe’s father and grandparents are deceased.

Others in the cast include Rory Cochrane and Jennifer Jason Leigh as FBI agents.


Rory Cochrane and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Photos: Wikimedia Commons)



Cochrane was in Argo, Dazed and Confused and Black Mass. Jennifer Jason Leigh received an Oscar nomination for her role in The Hateful Eight. Early in her career she appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Leigh is known to have been in contact recently with retired FBI agents who were assigned to Detroit during the time Rick Wershe was a paid teen informant. She’s made an effort to research the role, asking questions that will help her bring authenticity to the screen.


R.J. Cyler (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


R.J. Cyler, the Blue Power Ranger in the Power Rangers movie, recently signed to play the role of Rudell "Boo" Curry, the youngest brother of the family drug gang Rick Wershe infiltrated and informed on for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Rick Wershe was recruited by the FBI to become a secret informant because he was known and trusted by the Curry Brothers, a cocaine gang with political connection that had attracted the attention of federal investigators.

Wershe had a most unusual visitor recently. Matthew McConaughey, the actor, spent close to five hours visiting with Wershe at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, where he is serving his prison term.

McConaughey was accompanied by Scott Franklin, the movie’s producer and Yann Demange, the director.

Wershe says it was a get-acquainted visit. They talked and laughed and shared personal stories. They are about the same age but they are, as Wershe observes, from two different worlds. He was impressed with McConaughey’s interest in playing the role and he marveled that the Hollywood star was “super down to earth.”

“It made me feel great about him playing my father,” Wershe told me. “Funny thing is, me and my Dad always loved him as an actor. I only wish I could tell him that Matthew is playing him, but who knows? Maybe he’s looking down from up there.”

What about the other inmates? How did they feel about a movie star visiting Oaks prison?

“There was a buzz, but nothing big,” Wershe says. “They just thought it was cool that he took the time to come see me.”

Wershe appreciated the response of the prison staff, too. He says everyone behaved professionally and no one pestered McConaughey for autographs or posed pictures.

He doesn’t say so, but you can tell Rick Wershe is impressed and moved by all of this high-wattage attention. But the most important attention of all will come from the Parole Board, presumably next month.

***

Full disclosure: I was hired early in the movie production process by Studio 8, the outfit making the White Boy Rick film, to advise one of the script writers about factual matters regarding Detroit, the Detroit Police Department, city politics and the like. I did not get involved in any of the script writing. My brief role was what might be called an historical adviser.

Currently I am hard at work on a non-fiction book about the Rick Wershe saga and how it fit in to the War on Drugs in the 1980s. There were national and international forces and events that had an effect on what happened to Rick Wershe. I intend to tell that tale.


  



Sunday, March 12, 2017

For Rick Wershe, the Waiting Has to be Hard


For Rick Wershe, these have to be hard days. There is genuine cause for optimism that his lifelong prison nightmare may have an end in sight. But to the “corrections” system he is still nothing more than No. 192034. He is reminded of it every day.

The Michigan Parole Board met Friday and considered the possibility of parole for some state prison inmates. One of them was Richard, J. Wershe, Jr., known in countless media reports over the years as White Boy Rick. We think they made a decision, but it hasn’t been announced. The Parole Board observes bureaucratic protocols and notifies each of the inmates who was up for parole consideration at this month’s board meeting, and apparently, it’s going to be up to Wershe to let his lawyer, family, friends and many supporters know what the Parole Board decided. Rick was told last week that they would tell him when they feel like it. We don’t know if that’s the Parole Board’s attitude or the interpretation of some hard-ass prison guard. All we know is the waiting game continues.

If the Parole Board votes to consider Wershe for parole, the next step will be a notice of a public hearing where witnesses get to testify whether he should or shouldn't be granted parole. A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections has stated this is likely to occur in early June, which happens to be just days before an important court date in Wershe's battle for parole.



Rick Wershe with some of the art work he has done while in prison.


After 29 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense, Rick Wershe’s case is suddenly on the fast track, at least in state prison terms.

His lawyers have been fighting the State of Michigan in a lawsuit in federal court, claiming Michigan has violated his civil rights by treating him differently than every other prisoner similarly charged, convicted and incarcerated. That battle has been dragging on for several years and it was due on the radar again on March 16th in Cincinnati, Ohio before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. But that court appearance has been postponed.

Wershe’s lawyer, Ralph Musilli, and a lawyer from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, representing the Michigan Parole Board, were to appear before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals and participate in what are known as oral arguments. It’s more about questions-and-answers than arguments. Both sides have submitted detailed written arguments about prevailing case law and if this now-postponed session goes forward the judges will ask a lot of questions.The Court of Appeals took note of the Parole Board's movement on Wershe's possible parole and contacted the lawyers and asked if it makes sense to "hold in abeyance" the oral arguments. All parties agreed that makes sense.

The case started in federal court in Grand Rapids because Wershe is in prison on the western side of the state and the Grand Rapids federal court covers that territory.

The rights lawsuit argues it is a violation of the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to make every prisoner charged with a nonviolent drug crime as a juvenile eligible for parole except Richard Wershe. That’s treating him differently than everyone else and that is unusual punishment.

The judge on the case has balked at hearing Wershe’s case from day one. Many judges dislike hearing prisoner rights cases, and Grand Rapids U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist is apparently one of them. If the appellate court decides the Wershe argument has merit, they can turn the heat up on the Grand Rapids case.

In December, however, Wershe’s lawyers added fuel to the legal fire. Attorney Paul Louisell, one of Musilli’s partners, filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus with the federal court in Detroit. U.S. District Judge George Steeh agreed to consider the case, a remarkable decision in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that make it difficult to prevail in a habeas corpus (Latin for “you have the body) action. This motion is scheduled to be discussed in court in mid-June.




Ralph Musilli and Paul Louisell, Rick Wershe's attorneys




The onus is now on the State of Michigan to explain why Wershe hasn’t been afforded a meaningful opportunity for parole. His only real parole consideration was in 2003 and that was a kangaroo court sham hearing that appeared rigged to ensure Wershe remained in prison. False and conflicting testimony was not questioned or challenged by the Michigan Parole Board in 2003. Wershe has been up for parole consideration roughly every five years but they keep “flopping” him with a terse “no interest” response to the issue of releasing Wershe. As Musilli puts it, they’ve been extending Wershe’s life sentence five years at a time.

Less than a week after the filing of the habeas corpus motion in mid-December, the Parole Board announced it was moving up Wershe’s next scheduled parole review up by nearly a year.

Regardless of what the Parole Board does, the habeas corpus action will likely move forward for an important reason for Wershe. If the Detroit federal judge agrees with Wershe's lawyers, he could order that Wershe be re-sentenced as Michigan has done for hundreds of other inmates in light of various court rulings about sentencing juveniles to long prison terms for non-violent offenses. Wershe was 17 when he was arrested, 18 when he was sentenced to life in prison.
If he is re-sentenced, and his trial judge, Dana Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court has indicated a belief that he should be re-sentenced, that will mean, in effect, he's over-served time behind bars and he won't be subject to several years of probation and supervision. That would be a big burden off Wershe's shoulders. So the habeas corpus battle has some important stakes for Wershe regardless of what the Parole Board does with his case.

Some hooray-for-me self-promoters in the media like to think their coverage of the Wershe story is responsible for the sudden change in his parole status. The truth is more diffuse and doesn't lend itself to such self-congratulation. 

The increased media interest in the White Boy Rick story; including this blog, including a Hollywood movie based loosely on his story, the continued interest of Wershe’s many citizen supporters and the relentless efforts of his lifelong friend, Dave Majkowski, who manages the Free Rick Wershe Facebook page; all of these things have added to keeping the spotlight on this case of a man who is a political prisoner.

For those who haven’t read the Informant America blog posts over the past two years, the evidence is pretty clear that Wershe IS a political prisoner. His real sin is that he told on the wrong people. As a teen, Wershe was a paid FBI informant. He told the FBI about payoffs and criminal influence over powerful people in the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine. The shady politicians, including the late Gil Hill, ex-Homicide top cop and later City Council President, took a lot of heat from the FBI as a result of Wershe’s informant work. They got even by working long and hard to keep Wershe in prison for life. At long last, that may be changing.

Speaking of the Informant America blog, regular readers might be interested to know this coming week marks two years’ worth of regular blog posts on the amazing story of Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick. The Informant America blog has been viewed over 223,000 times by people interested in the Wershe story. Not bad for a single-subject Internet blog site. The interest of readers like you has played a tangible part in keeping the heat on a state and local criminal “justice” system that is rotten to the core.

Informant America has revealed a lot, but not all, about the Rick Wershe saga. There are things I haven’t reported or made public, yet.


As an offshoot of this blog I’ve been writing a non-fiction book about how Rick’s story typifies many of the things that are horribly, horribly wrong with this nation’s so-called War on Drugs. I’ve battled for months using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the true story of Richard J. Wershe from the files of the federal, state and local governments. It’s a convoluted, sordid and disgraceful tale with no heroes. And the federal government is fighting the release of certain file information related to Wershe that must be, um, uh, unpleasant - for the government. There are some cans of worms they would rather not have opened. People are shocked to learn a 14-year old was recruited to do dangerous undercover work in the War on Drugs. But there are other dirty secrets about the Wershe story the government is fighting to keep under wraps. 

The book will expose the truth about the trillion-dollar national fiasco we call the War on Drugs and White Boy Rick’s part in it. No, there isn't a publication date yet. Stay tuned.