Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 2015 with Rick Wershe, Jr.

Unlike the popular song of the season, Rick Wershe, Jr. did not have himself a Merry Little Christmas. It was just the opposite. But he had a bit of cheer from the outpouring of support for his holiday food and gift drive. He asked me to thank all of you who helped Christmas be a little better for a bunch of families in need.

As usual Christmas was a real bummer for Rick Wershe, Jr. Yet, he’s gratified and grateful. There’s a logical explanation for this seeming contradiction.

Christmas is a miserable day in prison, any prison. “There’s no holidays in prison, Vince,” Rick told me in a holiday phone call. But Wershe has taken some solace in the fact so many people who believe in him pitched in and helped with his holiday food drive for the needy.

During the holidays in recent years Rick has asked for help—not for himself, but for people on the outside who are in need. This year, Rick’s supporters really came through in a big way.

Truck loaded with food from Rick Wershe's annual holiday food/present drive for needy families. (Photo courtesy of Dave Majkowski.)

“We were very pleased", Pamela Dickerson of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Detroit told me. “We had way more (from Rick Wershe’s holiday food and gift drive) than we expected.” Ms. Dickerson said they were able to feed 80 families with over 30 donated turkeys and food was left over. What’s more, they were able to provide much-needed winter hats, gloves, mittens and throw-blankets for kids without such basics.

Some of the food donated to the needy by Rick Wershe supporters. (Photo courtesy of Dave Majkowski.)
Immanuel Lutheran Church coordinated the distribution of the holiday food for Rick Wershe's annual drive. (Photo courtesy of Dave Majkowski.)

Rick got to talk to Ms. Dickerson by phone before Christmas and he was gratified when she told him she couldn’t believe he had led this project from inside prison. The satisfaction he derived from helping people in need helps offset the melancholy of spending the holiday season behind bars.

“I haven’t had a Christmas in 28 years,” Rick told me. “It’s just another day.”

On Christmas, as he has done for decades, Wershe got up, had some breakfast, watched the news on TV, did a little exercise and spent an hour and fifteen minutes “in the yard” as it is called. He got to call his family to wish them merry Christmas; then it was back to his cell.

What about Christmas dinner? Rick Wershe scoffs when asked about that. “We used to get a real piece of turkey for Christmas but since the State of Michigan privatized food service for the prisons we get cheap processed meat, turkey parts ground up and pressed in to slabs,” he said.

Christmas 2016 may be different for Rick Wershe, Jr...but only if someone in the criminal justice system decides to do the right thing.

Going in to 2016 Rick Wershe, Jr. has three possibilities to get out from under his life sentence for a 1988 drug conviction. Any of the three might offer salvation. It is impossible to rate one over another in terms of the odds of setting Rick Wershe free.

There is a civil rights case pending in the federal court in Grand Rapids. Wershe’s long-suffering pro bono attorney, Ralph Musilli, filed the lawsuit based on the Michigan Parole Board's repeated refusal in recent years to consider parole for Wershe. Michigan’s harsh “650 law” which called for a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of possession of more than 650 grams of illegal drugs has been repealed. That means Wershe is eligible for parole.

All others in Michigan convicted under similar circumstances have been paroled. All except Rick Wershe. That fits the U.S. Constitution Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The fact Wershe has been treated differently than everyone else similarly charged constitutes unusual punishment. The fact he has been behind bars for nearly 28 years for a non-violent crime while drug hit men, cold-blooded killers, have been imprisoned and released in the time Wershe has been incarcerated fits the definition of cruel punishment.

The judge on the case, Gordon Quist, tried to throw out the Wershe civil rights lawsuit as frivolous litigation but the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and sent the case back to Quist in 2014 to hold a hearing to determine the facts behind the parole board’s refusal to consider parole for Wershe. Judge Quist has sat on the case ever since. There’s nothing in the Court of Appeals remand that specifies when Quist has to act on the case. Federal judges have broad power over matters before their court and they don’t like it when an appeals court tells them they were wrong.

There’s one other thing to remember about the federal lawsuit and it’s powerful. Pursuant to the ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals the trial court would likely hold a full hearing to explore what the Michigan Parole Board has and hasn’t done in denying Wershe parole. 

Attorney Musilli would have the opportunity to call witnesses and subpoena documents—lots of documents—that would show what the law enforcement establishment really “has” on Rick Wershe, Jr. This blog has already shown there is plenty of reason to believe the legend of White Boy Rick Wershe is built on lies. (See the Informant America blog posts: White Boy Rick—‘The Records Do Not Exist’ and Did a DEA Agent Mislead the Parole Board about White Boy Rick?)  The files of the FBI, DEA, Detroit Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor will likely show just how threadbare the accusations against him have been all along. As this blog has asserted all along, Rick Wershe, Jr. is still in prison as retribution for informing on politically powerful people in Detroit.

The importance of this kind of hearing is about changing perceptions that have hardened and calcified for nearly 30 years. One of the reasons Wershe is still behind bars is the enduring perception of him as a “drug lord” and drug “kingpin.” People in the criminal justice system and in the political system with the power to help Wershe are reluctant to do so in large part because of his reputation. They don’t want the voting public to remember them releasing a big-time drug impresario. That myth about his drug past must be destroyed to enable some key people grow a backbone. A full, let-it-all-hang-out hearing would go a long way toward that goal. A full court hearing would spoon-feed the truth to media organizations complicit in smearing Rick Wershe, Jr.’s reputation for decades.

The second chance for a Wershe parole rests with the Michigan Supreme Court. (See the Informant America blog post Rick Wershe and the Lockridge Case.) A Michigan Supreme Court decision last summer (the Lockridge decision) restores trial judge discretion in sentencing people convicted. Wershe’s trial judge, Dana Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court has made it plain she’s ready to sentence Wershe to what amounts to time-served. But first his case must be sent to her by the Michigan Supreme Court. Ordinarily, the Wershe case should be remanded to Judge Hathaway under the Lockridge decision in the foreseeable future. But as we’ve seen, the Wershe case is far from ordinary when it comes to treatment by the justice system.

The third and least likely chance for Wershe is a gubernatorial pardon or clemency from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Good luck with that. Despite the fact some influential national and state Republicans are now questioning the wisdom of providing 24/7, 365 room and board for years for non-violent drug offenders like Rick Wershe, Snyder shows no inclination toward making changes in Michigan’s parole and pardon system. Like most state governors, Snyder did not issue any holiday pardons or grant clemency.

As a corrections-oriented organization known as The Marshall Project explains in a recent post on its Web site, “a pardon is a restoration of someone’s rights and privileges — often to vote, get a business license, or buy a firearm — usually after someone has completed a prison sentence. An early release from prison is a commutation.”

A few state leaders buck the generalization of governors ignoring prison pardons. For instance, Kentucky’s outgoing Governor Steve Beshear issued 201 prisoner pardons as his last act as governor. A few days before Christmas New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo announced plans to pardon thousands of law-abiding adults who were convicted of non-violent crimes as teenagers. Wershe fits that description. If he were incarcerated in New York he almost certainly would be high on that list.

But he isn’t. He’s in Michigan where the perennially corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine still has a lot of clout. Protégés of some of the biggest political crooks of all time are ready to pounce on Snyder if he dares to release a “kingpin” and “drug lord.”

So Wershe’s best hope lies with (a) the Michigan Supreme Court applying its own Lockridge decision to his case or (b) with U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist of Grand Rapids clearing some time on his court calendar to do the right thing and hold a hearing on the Wershe case in the interest of justice. Rick Wershe is hoping 2016 will be a better year than the past 27.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ninety-five prison sentence commutations - but not for Rick Wershe

This is a frustrating season for Richard J. Wershe, Jr. Not just because it’s Christmas time. It’s because clemency for drug offenses is all the rage at the federal level but nothing of the kind is being done at the state level where he is incarcerated.

This past Friday President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 95 drug offenders. Rick Wershe, Jr. wasn’t one of them. That’s because he is in a state prison in Michigan. The President doesn’t have any power over state cases. The inmates who got a break from the Oval Office are in federal prisons.

President Barack Obama (CNN photo)

This was the largest group of commutations in Obama’s presidency. It is part of his effort to reform the nation’s prison system, to change who stays in and who is set free. The President believes no purpose is served by filling the nation’s prisons with non-violent drug offenders. This isn’t an effort to free-‘em-all. Rather it is about re-thinking who should remain behind bars for years and who deserves a second chance. It’s about letting the punishment fit the crime.

“If we can show at the federal level that we can be smart on crime, more cost effective, more just, more proportionate, then we can set a trend for states to follow as well,” President Obama said. He added: “That’s our hope.”

In 2013, the most recent year statistics were available, there were 2,220,300 adults incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails. Thousands of those prisoners are behind bars for non-violent drug convictions. It is costing each American taxpayer a bundle. 

It is a consequence of the get-tough-on-crime politics of years gone by. It sounded great in campaign speeches. It sounded great on bumper stickers. It sounded great after a few drinks at the bar. But somewhere along the way all the tough-on-crime chest-thumpers discovered an unpleasant truth: throwing all the criminals in prison for decades-long sentences, regardless of the nature of the crime, comes with a hefty price tag. That money comes out of the wallets of the taxaphobic macho talkers as well as the rest of us. In Michigan one-fifth to one-quarter of the entire general fund budget is spent on prisons and prisoners. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, “Do ya feel safer punk? Well, do ya?”

Let’s be quite clear for the “law and order” hotheads who are prone to jumping to conclusions. (They’re always about order, seldom about law.)

This is not about “coddling” criminals, especially repeat offenders. There are some people who cannot get along in civilized society. These are the criminal sociopaths and psychopaths. There’s a difference. Sociopaths tend to be volatile and prone to violence at the slightest provocation. A psychopath, on the other hand, tends to be cool, calculating, manipulative and unemotional when committing horrific crimes. Both types usually deserve to be locked up, period. No state Department of Corrections is going to “correct” these criminals.

There are many prison inmates who don’t fit these descriptions. Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is one of them. Yet he has been in prison going on 28 years.

The inmates whose sentences were commuted by President Obama fit a set of commutation guidelines established by the Justice Department. Those guidelines are as follows:
  • They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  • They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  • They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  • They do not have a significant criminal history;
  • They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  • They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.   

Rick Wershe, Jr. qualifies on all these points except the first one; he’s a state prisoner. He’s not in a federal penitentiary. If he were, he would have been out years ago under federal sentencing guidelines and parole procedures.

One of Rick Wershe’s major problems is his false reputation; the law enforcement concocted myth that he was a drug lord and kingpin. It is a lie that has stuck to him for decades. It is a big reason he is still behind bars. No one wants to release the legendary “White Boy Rick,” the amazing white teen who allegedly bossed around street-hardened adult black criminals and flooded the mean streets of Detroit with as much as 440 pounds of cocaine each month without any of his black competitors wiping him out. That’s the preposterous lie the so-called No Crack Crew of DEA and Detroit Police narcs foisted on the gullible public, reporters and prosecutors.

A full evidentiary hearing in to the legend of White Boy Rick would easily dispel the myth but that’s like a crucifix with a garland of garlic around it—good for warding off vampires but also good for warding off judges, prosecutors, attorneys and the political hacks who make up the Michigan Parole Board. Who knows what can of worms a hearing with witnesses, sworn testimony, cross-examination and evidence might open?

So Rick Wershe sits in a prison cell, facing another year behind bars for daring to help the FBI prosecute politically-connected drug dealers and influential corrupt cops. The cut-my-taxes crowd is going to shell out about $50 thousand dollars—again for another year—to help the corrupt political machine in Detroit and Wayne County heap retribution on a man a Detroit FBI agent said is arguably the most valuable informant the Detroit FBI has ever had.

Hate taxes? Maybe you should start asking Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature why they are wasting tax dollars on Richard J. Wershe, Jr.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Big news in the War on Drugs - We're still losing

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a new report telling us what we have known for a long time; we are losing the War on Drugs. Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has been a political prisoner of the War on Drugs for almost 28 years. He’s been in prison for a non-violent drug conviction after being arrested at age 17. Numerous murderers and rapists have been convicted, imprisoned and released in the time Wershe has been behind bars. But then, they didn’t tell the FBI about corrupt cops and they didn’t help the Feds put former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s brother-in-law in prison for drug crimes. Wershe did. He’s been paying for it ever since.

Richard Nixon, the only proven criminal to occupy the White House, launched the spectacular national policy failure called the War on Drugs in 1971. The nation has spent over one trillion dollars on the War on Drugs but it has been in retreat since the first day.

(Tim Kelly)

In all wars, there’s money to be made. The drug traffickers are obvious beneficiaries, but we seldom look at the enormous profits of the big banks which launder the dealers’ money. Also overlooked in the War on Drugs is the inconvenient truth that narcotics enforcement is a profit center for the nation’s police departments. There’s big money in asset seizures and as part of a screwed up national policy, Uncle Sam doles out grants to local police departments for the number of drug arrests and asset seizures they make. It’s like giving them a ticket-writing quota, only in this case it's for their buy-and-bust, kick-in-doors farcical battle to make their communities safe from the drug epidemic that has continued unabated for 44 years.

Another Richard, this one named Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was recruited by the federal government at age 14 to join the Detroit battle front of the national War on Drugs. He did his job as a secret informant, was dropped after the government got what it needed and eventually he turned to the only trade he knew; the one the government put him in. He briefly became an illegal drug wholesaler, was quickly caught and sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Rick Wershe with his prison artwork. It needs to be framed as he has been with claims he is a drug kingpin. (Free Richard Wershe, Jr. Facebook page.)

Wershe was a headline sensation in the late 1980s. Gullible and/or lazy reporters and editors couldn’t get enough of the story of a baby-faced white teen who the Detroit cops and prosecutors claimed was a drug lord and/or drug kingpin. From a review of news archives from that era it is apparent that it never occurred to anyone in the media to stop and wonder how a cocky white kid could be the “lord” over street-hardened grown black men who had fought their way—literally—to the top of the narcotics underworld. Reporters and editors never asked Detroit's narcs to explain how this white kid could manage to peddle 200 kilos—441 pounds—of cocaine on the streets of Detroit month in and month out and still be alive. Reporters and editors apparently never asked if he had a gang supporting him. That would be essential for anyone moving that much dope each month. They never asked, apparently, why he was never charged with conspiracy to sell illegal drugs. Conspiracy, racketeering, operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE); those are the usual charges against drug lords and drug kingpins. Wershe was never charged with any of that.

The Wayne County Prosecutor at the time, the late John O’Hair, was seemingly thrilled to have a big case against a white defendant in the War on Drugs. The prosecutor’s attitude seemed to be, ‘See? See? This isn’t just a black problem. We’re going to prosecute a 17-year old white narcotics Godfather! We want you to ignore the fact we are not charging anyone else with him.’ 

Prosecutor O’Hair, who occupied an elective office, must have been pleased beyond measure to show Detroit's black voters that he was fearlessly going after white drug dealers, too. The prosecution of the teen the media liked to call White Boy Rick validated a widely held belief in the inner city that the cocaine epidemic of the ‘80s and the heroin epidemic of the’70s was due to a sinister and secret plot by The (white) Man  to enslave the black population. Most black Detroiters knew the drug problem went beyond racism but O’Hair was pandering to the conspiracy theory crowd in Detroit and they loved it because it made them feel better. Whites have their own pet conspiracy theories about "they" and "them" on a number of issues as evidenced in modern national politics.

That was the local political atmosphere in Detroit when Rick Wershe went to prison over 27 years ago. Fast forward to December, 2015 and it is obvious the War on Drugs which devoured Rick Wershe as a prisoner is a colossal and costly failure.

The use of illegal drugs is as bad now as it was then. Five years ago the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a White House operation, set a series of goals for the War on Drugs. A new report this month from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Washington’s official watchdog agency, says the Office of National Drug Control Policy has not met a single goal it established five years ago. Use of illegal drugs continues unabated. Not only have they not achieved any of the goals they set for themselves five years ago in the War on Drugs, in some cases the problem is even worse.

Numbers are dreary and boring but a few are worth considering. Drug-related deaths account for one of the biggest policy goal failures. 

Baseline (2009 drug deaths): 39,147
Target (2015 drug deaths):     33,275
Reality (2013 drug deaths):    46,471

In 2010, the White House was dealing with 2009 figures showing drug-related deaths nationally totaled 39,147. They set a goal of reducing drug-related deaths to 33,275 by this year. They failed. The figures for 2013, the latest available, show 46,471 drug-related deaths in the United States. That's an increase of almost 20 percent over 2009.

Interestingly, Detroit managed to show a decline in drug-related deaths in 2013. A cynic might say it's because Detroit's addicts are more experienced in how to abuse drugs without killing themselves.Research into drug-related deaths and hospital admissions for drug overdoses shows heroin is replacing crack cocaine as the narcotic of choice on the streets of Detroit and many other cities.

No matter how the numbers are crunched or nitpicked, the fact remains the United States has failed miserably to win the War on Drugs. Internet satirists are mocking the USA for its failure in the War on Drugs AND the War on Terror.

This past week a British blogger spoofed the international news media for a time with a bogus story that notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—who has escaped from prison twice—has issued a warning to the ISIS terrorist group to quit messing with his drug shipments to the Middle East—or else.

“My men will destroy you," Guzman allegedly warned the head of ISIS in an "encrypted" email. 

(Gullible reporters rushed to report this scoop without stopping to ask themselves about the notion of Mexican drugs being sold in the Middle East. They didn't ask themselves why they hadn't heard of this before. They didn't wonder how Guzman got the private email address of ISIS head Abu Bakd Badhdadi. They didn't wonder how the head of ISIS read the email if it was encrypted. But as we've seen with the Rick Wershe "kingpin" myth, many reporters are easily conned. They don't let facts get in the way of being the first to "break" a big story.)
                                                                                            The "El Chapo" satirical spoof went on: "The world is not yours to dictate. I pity the next son of a whore who tries to interfere with the business of the Sinaloa Cartel. I will have their heart and tongue torn from them.” He added: “You [ISIS] are not soldiers. You are nothing but lowly p*ssies. Your god cannot save you from the true terror that my men will levy at you if you continue to impact my operation.”

Maybe Steve Charnock, the British satire blogger is on to something. Maybe the United States should strike a deal with Joaquín Guzmán and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel. Maybe Washington could tell Guzman it will quit pretending it is going to destroy his monopoly of illegal drugs flooding the streets of the United States if he will do what the U.S. government seemingly cannot do—put an end to ISIS once and for all.

Such a deal would put the nation’s narcs out of business, but they aren’t accomplishing much anyway. While they are at the bar congratulating themselves on the two years and umpteen buckets of money they spent putting some major drug dealer in prison, three other street entrepreneurs are vying to take his place. It's been like this since Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Rick Wershe and the Lockridge Case

Rick Wershe’s latest shot at getting out of prison hinges on the Michigan Supreme Court applying one of its own recent rulings to the Wershe case, as it did recently with 50 other cases. Based on the court’s actions thus far, it would be odd indeed if the high court doesn’t send his case back to the trial judge for consideration of re-sentencing; something she has indicated she has every intention of doing once the top court sends it back to her.

If Rick Wershe gets out of prison any time soon it will be due in part to a guy who strangled his wife. Perhaps I should explain.

Last July the Michigan Supreme Court issued an important ruling that is sure to have a big impact on sentencing in criminal cases, including the case of Rick Wershe. The high court’s opinion was in The People of the State of Michigan v. Rahim Omarkhan Lockridge. Lockridge was charged with 1st Degree Murder in the strangulation death of his wife, Kenyatte, in Southfield in 2011. There had been a history of domestic violence preceding her death. An Oakland County jury found Lockridge guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Rahim Omarkahn Lockridge (Dept. of Corrections photo)

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Nanci Grant went above the state sentencing guidelines and tacked an additional 10 months on to Lockridge’s sentence. He was sentenced to 8 to 15 years in prison. The judge told the Detroit Free Press she went above the guidelines because of the violence of the crime, the fact the couple’s children witnessed the murder of their mother and because Rahim Lockridge violated a court order by even being in the apartment.

Lockridge appealed. His lawyer argued the judge based the additional minimum time on evidence not presented to the jury. Furthermore, the Lockridge appeal attacked the Michigan sentencing guidelines themselves. His appeal cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and argued the sentencing guidelines were inherently invalid because they placed an unconstitutional restraint on judicial discretion in sentencing. In late July the Michigan Supreme Court agreed.

That decision has far-reaching implications because it revises the fundamentals of how judges throughout the state handle sentences for convicted defendants. In the past judges were mostly tethered to the established guidelines. That was the case when Rick Wershe was sentenced to mandatory life without parole. Thomas Jackson, his trial judge at the time (since retired) had no choice under the law. That law was eventually modified to allow for parole consideration. Jackson revised Wershe's sentence to conform to the updated law but the Michigan Parole Board has denied Wershe a parole multiple times.

The Lockridge decision means trial court judges now have sentencing discretion. Proponents say it gives the trial judge latitude to consider all the circumstances of a case. Opponents say it will result in sentencing disparity.

The fallout from Lockridge can be seen in a recent string of Michigan Supreme Court case decisions. On October 28, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court issued fifty (50) “Lockridge” opinions on pending cases, sending them back to the trial courts in counties throughout Michigan. This doesn’t mean each defendant will receive a new sentence. What it means is the trial judge in each case now has an order from the Michigan Supreme Court to review the sentence in the case that has been remanded (returned) to them for sentencing evaluation. The judge can stick with the original sentence or re-sentence the defendant now that trial judges have been given discretion to depart from the established sentencing guidelines. Many more “Lockridge” opinions and remands (sending the case back to the trial court) are sure to follow in the coming months.

Fourteen of the 50 “Lockridge” cases are from Wayne County, where Prosecutor Kym Worthy is fighting vigorously to keep Rick Wershe in prison, arguing his original sentence was valid under prevailing state law at the time. Worthy’s office argues changing Wershe’s sentence would be tinkering with the case sentence retroactively. That’s exactly what the Michigan Supreme Court Lockridge decision allows. Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway, Wershe’s trial court judge, reasoned that Lockridge should apply to the Wershe case, too. The Wayne County prosecutor appealed and the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed her decision on a legal technicality.

Some of the Wayne County cases sent back under Lockridge for possible re-sentencing are doozies.

Rafeal Emmanuel Dean (Dept of Corrections Photo)

Rafeal “Ra Ra” Emmanuel Dean is doing time because he had several of his homies beat a neighbor to a pulp while Dean fired a pistol next to the victim’s head. It was over a neighborhood dispute that had angered Dean. This guy is a repeat offender. He once tortured several men by burning their heads and faces with hot forks over a pair of stolen tennis shoes.

Martez Clemons (Dept. of Corrections Photo)

Another “Lockridge” case going back for sentencing re-consideration involves Martez Clemons. He’s doing time for raping a 55-year old Detroit woman repeatedly after breaking in to her apartment. The police found him passed out in the woman’s apartment with his pants down around his ankles. He was convicted of six counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct. He was also convicted on charges of home invasion and assault with intent to do great bodily harm.

Rick Wershe was never charged or convicted of any violent crime. His drug case was major but it was a first-time conviction handed down when he was 18 years old. Attorney Ralph Musilli, who has been waging court battles for Wershe for a long time, is frustrated that the Michigan Supreme Court isn't giving Wershe emergency consideration in light of the fact he's been in prison far longer than the others who are benefiting from the Lockridge ruling.

“What’s happening in this case makes no sense,” Musilli says, “particularly in light of Lockridge, particularly in light of all these cases that have come tumbling down the mountain.”

Rick Wershe’s appeal is sitting in the stack of cases before the Michigan Supreme Court. Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court was filed October 30, 2015 and the docket sheet indicates the trial court record was received on November 30th. It should be noted the 50 cases decided on October 28th had been in the system for a while. The wheels of justice grind slowly. In Rick Wershe’s case it has taken 27 years for them to begin turning.    

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Daily Beast explores the Rick Wershe, Jr. story and a real drug kingpin talks about Wershe

Regular readers of this blog are encouraged to do some extra reading this week at The Daily Beast. The influential online news site has run a substantial piece I wrote about the apparent vendetta that has kept Richard J. Wershe in prison for all of his adult life for helping the FBI bust corrupt cops in Detroit. In addition, this week’s post focuses on what a real drug kingpin had to say about Rick Wershe.

Anyone interested in reading an overview of the Rick Wershe saga is encouraged to visit The Daily Beast and check out the story I wrote for them.

Is Cocaine Legend White Boy Rick Serving Life for Busting Crooked Cops?

Arthur Dale Derrick was the kind of dope dealer Rick Wershe, Jr. wanted to be. Derrick had a fleet of planes including a personal jet. He had a luxurious suburban home. He stayed in hotel suites and sometimes rented entire floors of a hotel. He had plenty of money. He had connections. Art Derrick was a weight man. That’s drug trade talk for a wholesaler, an importer; the guy the big dope dealers in town turn to for their supply of illegal drugs.

When the narcs on the Detroit Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) suddenly quit talking to Rick Wershe in the summer of 1986 he was a kid adrift. He had worked secretly for the task force for two years, beginning at age 14, as an informant against the Curry Brothers, an east side drug gang with political connections. The Curry organization, led by brothers Johnny and Leo Curry, known as Little Man and Big Man respectively, started in marijuana, moved in to heroin and then in to cocaine when crack swept the big cities of North America in the mid-1980s.

Johnny Curry was engaged to Cathy Volsan, the attractive niece of Coleman Young, Detroit’s powerful black mayor. As the mayor’s favorite niece, Cathy Volsan enjoyed personal police protection from the substantial mayoral security detail. The protection included copies of police reports of investigations related to the Currys.

The late Arthur "Art" Dale Derrick (Obituary photo)

Art Derrick was a “weight man”, a wholesale supplier to the Curry Brothers, who also had connects in New York. Dealing crack cocaine was a supply and demand business. Pesky narcs were a constant drag on business. Sometimes they staged raids as part of an investigation. Sometimes they staged raids to steal drugs and cash from the doper dealers so they could sell them to competitors who didn’t care where the stuff came from.

Thus, rising drug lords like Johnny and Leo Curry scored their supplies wherever they could. If the supplier was some Cuban in New York, that was fine. If the supplier was a suburban Detroit white guy named Art Derrick, that was fine, too.

Rick Wershe, Jr. aspired to be a weight man just like Art Derrick. Wershe had met Derrick during his time as a confidential informant for the FBI.

Like many things about the Rick Wershe saga, his estrangement from the federal drug task force agents has multiple versions. Retired FBI agents will tell you Rick Wershe had been key to helping them get court authorization for wiretaps and listening devices  focused on the Curry drug operation. After they got the electronic eavesdropping authorization, the federal agents say Wershe became less important.

In Rick Wershe’s view, the federal task force narcs dropped him when someone “higher up” got wind they were using a juvenile informant in a highly dangerous drug investigation. In the end, both versions may be true.

No one in this saga disputes the point the narcs dropped Rick Wershe without any counseling, without any effort to assimilate this kid from a troubled family back in to a normal teenager’s life. He was a school drop-out because he had been running the streets night after night, living the underworld fast life as a paid informant of the FBI. The only trade he knew was the trade the police taught him; the dope trade.

So it came to be that Art Derrick says he took young Rick Wershe under his wing. Wershe disputes how much credit Derrick gets for his brief run as a drug wholesaler wannabe. What follows, is Art Derrick’s version of the Rick Wershe, Jr. story from an affidavit he wrote in 2003. Derrick can’t be questioned about his assertions because he died in 2005, a victim of self-abuse of drugs.

The following quotes are from Derrick's sworn affidavit written after Rick Wershe’s one and only parole hearing. Derrick showed up at the parole hearing to testify in Wershe’s behalf, but Patrick McQueeney, Wershe’s attorney at the time, decided it might not be a good idea for a convicted and admitted drug kingpin to testify in support of Wershe.

Here's an interesting question to ponder: who better to evaluate the extent of Rick Wershe's dope dealing than another proven (convicted and imprisoned) dope dealer?

Derrick resided in St. Clair Shores at the time he gave his affidavit. He says he was convicted in federal court in 1989 of operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the so-called “kingpin” statute, plus tax evasion. He served six years of a ten year term. (Wershe, who was never convicted under the “kingpin” statute is now in the 27th year of a life term for a non-violent drug conviction handed down in state court. But Derrick didn't inform on corrupt cops. Wershe did.)

"I had previously sold cocaine to Mr. Wershe several years ago and in part felt sorry for Mr. Wershe who was arrested when he was a kid and has not been (as) fortunate as myself to be released and get a second chance," Derrick stated in his affidavit.

Derrick directly contradicts the testimony of selected law enforcement professionals who had been hand-picked to testify against Wershe at his parole hearing. My own investigation over some 18 months suggests Derrick told the truth and the cops lied. It appears they lied because they had a vendetta against Rick Wershe for helping the FBI nail drug-corrupted cops and Willie Volsan, the drug-dealing brother-in-law of Mayor Young and the father of Cathy Volsan.

Here’s how Art Derrick described Rick Wershe, Jr.:

"In 1985-1987, I was involved in large scale drug trafficking and ultimately met Mr. Wershe. Mr. Wershe was a kid when I met him and was nothing near a sophisticated narcotics trafficker. I referred to Mr. Wershe, as a "wannabe" narcotics trafficker. I was not interested in selling cocaine to a teenager, but I was persuaded to involve Mr. Wershe in drug sales by my partner. I was involved in large scale importation of cocaine and Mr. Wershe was not known in the narcotics industry as a ‘major player.’"

Separately, veteran Detroit criminal defense attorney Steve Fishman has said the same thing. Wershe’s name came up from time to time but he was never a defendant or even a witness in the biggest drug trafficking trials of that era.

Derrick says he was the one who first came up with Wershe’s infamous nickname: White Boy Rick:

"I labeled Mr. Wershe, as "White Boy'' Rick, a label that Mr. Wershe never pinned on himself. The reason behind labeling him with such a name was that my partner and I had two (2) Ricks that we were selling drugs to. The first Rick was an African-American, who drove a Maserati and the second Rick was a young white male. In the event that my partner contacted me, he would simply say the "Maz" known as Maserati Rick and Wershe as ‘White Boy’ Rick," Derrick stated.

Neither of Derrick's customers named Rick fared too well. Wershe, as we know, is serving a life prison term. Maserati Rick Carter is dead. He survived an attempted hit only to be murdered in his hospital bed as he was recovering for the botched hit.

Maserati Rick Carter, lying in repose in a coffin decorated to resemble a Mercedes Benz. (Detroit Free Press Photo)

Derrick strongly disputes the parole hearing testimony of a DEA agent who said “informants” had told him Rick Wershe was pushing 200 to 300 kilograms of cocaine in Detroit every month. There is no investigative evidence, no wiretaps, no surveillance photos to indicate that estimate is anywhere close to the truth. Derrick says there is a very tangible reason to believe Rick Wershe was not the drug lord law enforcement has made him out to be. Derrick said in his affidavit:

“The reason I suggest that Mr. Wershe was not a ‘major trafficker’ was the fact that he did not have the ‘toys or items’ that a major trafficker possessed, such as myself. At the time that I was arrested, I owned the most expensive home in the City of Harper Woods (Michigan), a number of Corvettes, four airplanes, a four engine personal jet, several hundred thousand dollars in cash and I can attest that although Mr. Wershe had some money and a couple of automobiles, he did not possess or own the level of assets I had in my possession, because he simply was not a ‘major narcotics trafficker.’"

Anyone who laughs at this argument doesn’t understand the drug kingpin lifestyle. “Toys”, clothes, luxury cars, jewelry and expensive recreation possessions are key elements for a major drug dealer, a sign that he is living large in the underworld. Rick Wershe, Jr. had very few toys, and as he has pointed out in my interviews and conversations with him, “If I was such a big drug dealer why was I still living in the same ‘hood (neighborhood)?”

It’s a question Wershe’s enemies in the Detroit criminal justice establishment have never answered.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rick Wershe wants your help - with his holiday food drive

Serving a life prison term, as Rick Wershe is doing, is hard time. But Wershe knows there are people on the outside who are going through hard times, too. For several years Rick has organized a holiday food drive for the needy. He hopes people who support him will support his food drive, which is through a well-known food-for-the-needy charity and his former church. Sadly, he worries his critics will accuse him of posturing for his own self-interest.

This is a topic Rick Wershe hopes the media doesn’t write about. It is Wershe’s holiday charity work. Many people who have heard about Rick Wershe’s ordeal have asked how they can help. Supporting his holiday food drive is one easy and immediate way to help him. More on how to get involved later.

Rick with a painting he did in prsion. It was donated for an auction for the Susan G. Komen cancer foundation.

For several years Rick Wershe has tried to organize a holiday food drive for the needy. Why wouldn’t he want credit for this in news stories? 

“I don’t want people to think I’m having you write about it so I look good,” Wershe wrote in an email to me last week. It is a sad, twisted truth that Wershe has critics who say he is only trying to help people so he will look good to the parole board. He can’t win with these people.

Wershe, and some other prison inmates like him face a dilemma as guests of the Department of Corrections. Think about the last word in the department name: Corrections. Society pays lip service to the notion of prison time as a motivation to change anti-social behavior exhibited by whatever crime the inmate has committed. Society expects inmates to change their behavior, but according to many cynics, if they do, they are just manipulating the system; they are just trying to “look good.”

Pardon me, but what do you think all those virtuous charity-givers on the outside are doing? What are church do-gooders doing? What are the wealthy with their thousand-dollars-a-ticket charity balls doing? What are untold numbers of politicians doing when they roll up their sleeves (when the media cameras are on) at some charity event?

Rick Wershe has tried in recent years, as best he can from a prison cell, to help people around the holidays. When he was in the federal Witness Security program (after he helped the FBI prosecute drug-corrupted cops) he and some other inmates gathered donations and passed them along to needy kids in Florida, where he was then incarcerated. He has continued the holiday giving drive as a prisoner in Michigan.

Wershe recalls reading a newspaper story about a woman with cancer whose kids were going to have a bleak holiday. Rick Wershe asked his late father to find the woman and take her kids shopping for some holiday treasures. He did.  

On another occasion Rick Wershe read about a family facing tough times and living in a motel in the 8 Mile and Woodward area of Detroit. Wershe arranged for a friend to go to the motel and pay for a week’s lodging for that family.

There are limits to what Rick Wershe can do from prison. That’s why some of his friends try to organize legitimate food donations in his name. Wershe tries to be the catalyst for a few good deeds on the outside.

“To me that demonstrates he has redeemed himself on the positive side,” says Robert Aguirre, a former member of the Michigan Parole Board who is very familiar with the Rick Wershe story. When he was on the parole board Aguirre researched the Wershe case and tried in vain to interest the rest of the board in granting him parole.

“If you’re looking for (prison inmate) redemption you look for ways people are trying to make that happen,” Aguirre notes. “To me this shows a positive view of his socialization, it shows his level of redemption.”

Rick’s lifelong friend Dave Majkowski has worked hard to ensure this holiday food drive is legit—on the up and up. The last thing Rick Wershe needs is to somehow get involved in a phony charity scheme. Details of the Rick Wershe holiday food drive can be found on the Free Richard Wershe Jr. Facebook page.

"We're partnering with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan and Emmanuel Lutheran Church to provide meals to needy families in Rick's old east side neighborhood," Majkowski writes. "We have set up a PayPal account for the charity turkey drive." A link to the PayPal account for Rick’s holiday food drive is on the Free Richard Wershe, Jr. Facebook page.

If you’d like to know more about the Gleaners Community Food Bank, here is their Web site:

If money is tight but you can help Rick’s holiday food drive in some other way, you can contact Pamela Dickerson at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The phone number is: 313-492-2961.

For those who are eager to help Rick Wershe in some way, this is it. Five bucks, ten, twenty, whatever you can afford. It’s immediate, it’s worthwhile, it’s legit and it helps Rick feel good that he is trying to help someone else during the holiday season.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rick Wershe's next battleground: the Michigan Supreme Court

Rick Wershe’s struggle to win his freedom after 27 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was 17 has moved to the Michigan Supreme Court. In September, the Wayne County, Michigan judge assigned to his case agreed he deserved to be re-sentenced in light of significant changes over the years to Michigan’s drug laws and sentencing guidelines related to similar convictions. The Wayne County prosecutor is vigorously fighting Wershe’s re-sentencing, insisting he was sentenced to life and should stay in prison for life. Thus the case is now before Michigan highest court. Here’s what the lawyers are arguing about.

The Michigan Supreme Court

The court argument about whether Rick Wershe can be re-sentenced to time-served after 27 years in prison comes down to whether prison sentences can be changed or modified as the times and the laws and public attitudes change or whether a prison sentence meted out under the laws of the time must never, ever be changed because it was legal at the time. Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway believes Wershe can and should be re-sentenced. The Wayne County prosecutor vehemently disagrees.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office is squandering money and staff resources trying to keep Wershe in prison even though everyone else in Michigan sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide drug crime committed as a juvenile has been paroled.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who never misses an opportunity to whine that Wayne County doesn’t give her a budget sufficient to prosecute bad people who need to be behind bars, is wasting her budget dollars in a desperate effort to keep Rick Wershe in prison until he dies. Yet a prison official where Wershe is serving time says if there were such a thing as a model prisoner, Wershe would fit the description.

Worthy has admitted, in response to a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request from me, that records do not exist to support claims by her predecessor, Mike Duggan, now the mayor of Detroit, that Wershe was a drug lord with a gang that had a habit of getting themselves killed when they weren’t busy slinging dope or making God-fearing witnesses against Wershe disappear. A 2003 Duggan letter to the Michigan Parole Board argued Wershe should remain in prison the rest of his life as a menace to society for various alleged crimes Worthy now admits aren’t supported by any records in the prosecutor’s office files.

It is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about for fear all hell would break loose if a serious effort is made to find out the truth about the legend of White Boy Rick, as Wershe came to be known in the media. That legend is largely responsible for the inertia in releasing him from prison. No one wants to be the one to release a legendary menace to society, even if the legend was built on a pile of lies.

As her fight to keep this one man in prison until he dies plays out before the Michigan Supreme Court, the court battle isn’t about a vendetta against a white FBI informant in the mostly black Detroit drug world aided by police and political corruption or about the shaky and shady evidence used to condemn Rick Wershe to a life in prison.

Wait! Haven’t you told us Rick Wershe admits he was working to become a cocaine wholesaler?

Well, yes. That’s absolutely true. He did this after law enforcement recruited him at age 14 to become a confidential drug informant, then kicked him to the curb once they made their big case after he helped them achieve success. Wershe was about 16 or so and a school dropout because he was so busy playing drug world spy, he turned to the only trade he knew; the one law enforcement taught him. He set out to become a dope dealer.

In his 1988 drug trial the Detroit Police could not and did not produce any evidence that Wershe’s fingerprints or palm prints were on the cocaine he was accused of having in his possession. Don’t forget: Wershe wasn’t charged with conspiracy or racketeering. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute over 650 grams of cocaine.

Hmm, you might say. Did Detroit narcs plant the box of dope they “found” in a neighborhood back yard about half an hour after Rick Wershe was arrested, dope they claimed belonged to Rick Wershe even though there was nothing tying him to the box of cocaine? I am shocked. Shocked! To think you might have such a thought about these brave and honorable men in blue who risked their lives to make the mean streets safe from bad hombres like 17-year old Rick Wershe. But I digress. Let’s get back to the pending battle before the Michigan Supreme Court.

You don’t have to have a law degree to understand the key elements of Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. You just have to understand lawyers hate talking to each other in plain English. Take a deep breath and read the next paragraph, even though the second sentence may set a record for its length:

“The present case involves an important and significant issue of law and fact. In her opinion and order, Judge Hathaway ruled that because Mr. Wershe’s original sentence of mandatory nonparolable (sic) life as a juvenile for a non-homicide offense was indisputably unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, pursuant to subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the proper remedy for that unconstitutionality should be a resentencing, at this time, under the current version of Michigan’s controlled substances law, in which the Michigan Legislature has twice reduced the severity and eliminated the mandatory nature of the sentencing scheme which was applicable in 1987.”

Did you get that? It is from Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. Let’s break it down. At the time Wershe was arrested in 1987 and sentenced in 1988 Michigan’s drug law stated if the amount of drugs involved was over 650 grams (the prosecution claimed Wershe had 17 pounds of cocaine) the sentence was mandatory life without parole. That law, one of the harshest in the nation, was eventually overturned to allow for the possibility of parole.

Wershe’s lawyers argue sentencing a juvenile to mandatory life in prison for “a non-homicide offense” is cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, so the way to remedy that is to re-sentence him, under current Michigan drug law, as Wayne County Circuit judge Dana Hathaway has proposed. As the Wershe appeal notes "...the Michigan Legislature has twice reduced the severity and eliminated the mandatory nature of the sentencing scheme which was applicable in 1987.”

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s answer is basically what’s done is done and it was done properly under the law that was on the books at the time and therefore cannot and should not be modified. The fact the Michigan legislature has modified the law and the Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in on sentencing guidelines makes no difference to Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

“There has been no holding, let alone a retroactive one, that parolable mandatory life for a nonhomicide offense committed by a juvenile is unconstitutional,” Wayne County argues in its reply to Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Wershe appeal says Judge Hathaway has it right, noting: "In particular, she noted that while Mr. Wershe’s sentence of LWOP (Life Without Parole) has been changed, due to prior case law and the changes to the statutes, to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, he has never been sentenced by a judge who had discretion to impose anything but a life sentence, regardless of Mr. Wershe’s age at the time of the offense, the circumstances of that offense, or any other relevant factors."

This is saying, yes, Wershe is eligible for parole under Michigan’s revised drug law, but he was never re-sentenced under the new law. So, yes, his sentence in 1988 was proper at the time, but no judge has formally updated his sentence to reflect current law.

Just in case the Michigan Supreme Court justices are persuaded by the Wershe argument about the law, Kym Worthy’s argument to the high court shift gears at the end and says, in effect, what’s the big deal? Wershe can get relief through parole from the Michigan Parole Board or a commutation by the Governor and doesn’t need any interference from an uppity trial judge in Wayne County.

"The trial judge here is neither the governor nor the Parole Board. Defendant is serving a sentence of life in prison, and is subject to parole consideration...Whether he is being so afforded by the Parole Board is not a matter for consideration as to the constitutionality of the sentence...Further, defendant can seek a commutation of his sentence from the Governor, and is so doing. But his sentence is constitutional,” the Wayne County prosecutor’s brief argues.

The Wershe appeal focuses on the question of whether the Michigan criminal justice system is a living, evolving set of principles and rules versus a rigid, unchangeable system cast in stone:

"...the threshold issue this Court must face, and should grant leave to appeal on, is the definition of “retroactive change in law”... This Court should grant leave to appeal on this important, but as yet unanswered, issue to the bench and bar," the Wershe appeal states. That last phrase—bench and bar—is lawyer talk meaning judges and lawyers, as in the State Legal Bar, not the shot-and-shell joint over on the next block.

Barristers (lawyers) are sure to nitpick this non-lawyer simplification, but the issue for the Michigan Supreme Court in the Richard J. Wershe, Jr. case is retroactivity. Can and should the criminal justice system re-consider old cases? The times and public opinion and laws enacted by the Michigan legislature have changed since Wershe was sentenced to life in prison in 1988. Should the now-discarded law under which he was sentenced prevail forever or should the courts take a fresh look at his punishment in light of changes in the law and the Michigan Supreme Court’s own rulings that sentences need to be “proportionate” to the crime committed? That is the question.