Sunday, April 26, 2015

I was a Teenaged FBI Snitch

One of the staples of Hollywood B-movies in years past was to take themes from horror or monster films with adult casts and apply them to movies with teenaged casts; I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, I Was a Teenage Zombie, etc.

A Michigan teen named Richard Wershe, Jr. had his own real-life horror story—and he’s still living it decades later. I Was a Teenage FBI Snitch might be the title of this bad nightmare movie.

Briefly, Richard “Rick” Wershe Jr. was recruited at age 14 to help a federal drug task force catch the members of major family-controlled illegal drug operation on Detroit’s east side. It was a family with political connections in city hall. Rick was good at it; too good, perhaps. The Justice Department has prosecuted, with Rick Wershe’s help since the mid-1980s, politically-connected drug traffickers and politically-connected corrupt cops. But let’s be clear: Rick Wershe is not innocent. From the time he was old enough to have pimples Rick Wershe was running with the “wrong” crowd. The key issue is that Wershe’s prison term is way out of line with the crime he committed compared to how the State of Michigan has treated others. The Michigan Supreme Court threw out the drug law that Wershe was convicted under as unconstitutional. He’s been eligible for parole for a long time. 

Yet the Michigan Parole Board refuses to consider parole for Wershe while everyone else convicted under that draconian law has been set free. His continued imprisonment appears to be the result of a Detroit law enforcement vendetta for snitching on politically-connected members of the law enforcement establishment in Detroit. The Parole Board, which has no oversight and is responsible to no one except the Governor, refuses to parole Wershe and refuses to explain why.

As Wershe was growing up, the people he hung out with were a function of where he lived. Wershe’s neighborhood on Detroit’s east side was racially mixed. His ‘hood became increasingly black as he entered adolescence.

By his early teens Richard Wershe, Jr. was a master of urban slang. He sounded like he was a ghetto black kid. Retired FBI agent John Anthony, who was the legal adviser for the Detroit FBI office, told me his first contact with Rick Wershe was a telephone call. Anthony says he knew Rick Wershe was white from talking with the agents who were his handlers, but Anthony said when he talked to Rick Wershe on the phone he would’ve sworn he was talking to an inner city black kid. In the black drug underworld Rick Wershe walked the walk and talked the talk. He somehow fit in even though he was white. To put it in street terms, his homies back in da day be brothers from da ‘hood.

Rick Wershe’s recruitment as an FBI confidential informant is perhaps the touchiest aspect of his life story. We know his informant work began under now-retired FBI Special Agent James Dixon. But other FBI agents worked with Rick, too. Retired Special Agent Herman Groman almost went to jail protecting Rick Wershe’s identity as an FBI confidential informant in a dramatic courtroom showdown. That episode will be covered in another blog post.

FBI agents who were involved with Rick Wershe back then can’t agree on the details of how he came to be one of the best informants in the history of the Detroit FBI. It isn’t a case of dodging or shading the truth. They honestly don’t remember. Some retired agents remember part of the White Boy Rick story but can’t remember other parts. Age and fading memory affect all of us. Richard Wershe, Jr. was recruited as an informant over 30 years ago. Since there is no consensus on the “truth” of Wershe’s recruitment I contacted all of the FBI agents who dealt with him as a teenaged informant and I spoke at length with Rick Wershe himself in a series of phone calls from prison. A full picture emerges but some details remain fuzzy.

Previous blog posts have described how Ricky’s father, the late Richard J. Wershe Senior was “opened” as an on-the-books FBI informant in the early 80s because he was frequently on the edge of the law in his business wheeling and dealing. A team of FBI agents was visiting the Wershe home one day in 1984, talking with Rick Wershe’s father. They produced surveillance photos of some neighborhood drug figures the FBI wanted to investigate. Wershe Senior didn’t know them but called his son Richard J. Wershe Junior over to the table and asked him to look at the photos. Young Wershe was immediately able to identify the men in the photos. They were the Curry Brothers; Johnny, Leo and Rudell. Sam Mack Curry, the patriarch of the family, was also involved and seemed to have mentored his sons in the ways of slinging dope. As the teenager easily identified the faces in the photos the FBI agents realized they had a potential informant on their hands.

In the summer of 1984, at the age of 14, Richard J. Wershe, Jr. became a confidential informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation—but not officially. The agents were apprehensive about using a juvenile informant. If things went bad the consequences would be severe. But through a stroke of luck, the father and son had the same name. A decision was made to use both of the Wershes as informants but to file the son’s information in the father’s FBI file. Before long, the younger Wershe was getting most of the FBI payments credited to “Gem”, the code name assigned to his father. Rick was told to sign for the money as Gem.

The paper trail from the FBI’s files about “Richard Wershe” shows the informant relationship began in earnest in late June of 1984. FBI reports routinely protect identities by using terms like "Subject" and "Source." Subject refers to individuals in information from the informant, or Source.

A teletype from the Detroit FBI office to headquarters discusses the suitability of “opening” Richard Wershe Sr. as an FBI informant, to be code-named Gem. The teletype was by Special Agent James Dixon.

Excerpt from an FBI teletype regarding "opening" Richard Wershe Sr. as an informant.

About a month later, a request is made to provide the source an initial payment of $300.00. The money was paid.

The elder Wershe had knowledge of “pill” cases, among other crimes like gun trafficking, while the younger Wershe was familiar with the neighborhood players in the rapidly growing crack cocaine trade. Initially at least, it was a father-and-son snitching arrangement. One agent remembers the senior Wershe would sometimes call for a meeting and both father and son would show up for the meet. The paper trail from these years never indicates whether the "Source" information was coming from Richard Wershe Senior or Richard Wershe Junior. The FBI paperwork merely refers to "Source" information from Richard Wershe.

FBI files show the elder Wershe was providing information about illegal prescription drug sales while his son was providing information about cocaine trafficking.
When Richard Wershe, Jr. was all of 15 years old he was providing reliable information about drug trafficking to the FBI; information solid enough to be used as the basis for going to a federal judge and asking for authorization to initiate wiretaps. In this case it involved the Curry Brothers drug organization. In addition, the teen snitch provided intelligence good enough to obtain search warrants for drug raids.

“I was told to get in as deep as I could,” Wershe remembers. “I was told to get as much intel as I could.”

A file note agent Dixon wrote on December 12, 1984 about information from his teen snitch apparently set off alarm bells.

“I wrote a 302 on a meeting with Rick,” Dixon said recently. A 302 is an FBI investigative report form. What he was referring to was actually a so-called “insert” he wrote, not a 302. Inserts are the FBI term for notes about intelligence received from informants. We must realize Dixon was talking from memory about something he wrote over 30 years ago.  “He gave us some really good information about people who worked downtown,” Dixon said. I asked if he meant Detroit political figures. He said yes. “That (insert) became very important to a political corruption investigation.”

Dixon’s informant insert, which was redacted or edited before it was released by the FBI, contains the following:

“Source advised a close friend was told by an individual known as [blacked out] that Mayor YOUNG received drugs from [blacked out] is allegedly in jail on a murder charge. Source advised Mayor YOUNG is alleged to make frequent stops at this residence. Source also stated an individual known as [blacked out] has information regarding Mayor YOUNG’S involvement.”

The source, Dixon says was Richard Wershe, Jr. The Detroit media later nicknamed him White Boy Rick.

FBI files often contain unsubstantiated informant intelligence. Under ordinary circumstances informant file information is not made public.
It is important to understand this is raw intelligence from an informant. It was not corroborated or verified. It contains a statement that would never hold up in court. A close friend of the source was told by someone “known as” that Detroit’s mayor received drugs from an individual in jail at the time this was written. Yet this is how criminal investigations often begin. Someone tells someone about someone who may know something about someone who is politically important. Regarding the late Coleman Young, there was never a criminal case related to his involvement with drugs.

But Rick Wershe, Jr. was providing the FBI with a lot of good intelligence, direct knowledge gained from his undercover work, about the burgeoning cocaine trade on Detroit’s east side. About six months after his recruitment, he reported the Curry drug organization wanted him to fly to Miami to transport cocaine to Detroit.

This late 1984 FBI file shows Rick Wershe progressed quickly within the Curry drug organization.

Using the FBI’s informant money, Rick Wershe, Jr., not yet 16, became a jet-setting drug gang insider.  More on that in the next post.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What If A Sinner Pays For His Sins, But There’s No Redemption?

Richard J. Wershe, Jr., better known to some as White Boy Rick, is a sinner. There isn’t any argument about that. He is the first to admit it.

When it comes to crime and punishment Wershe has paid for his sins, over and over for his entire  adult life. Yet, no one shows him any mercy. Evil men who have done far worse, men who have killed people, men who have lured countless young people in to drug addiction have been convicted, sent to prison and are back on the streets while Wershe languishes in prison. As this blog has noted before, while Rick Wershe sold drugs wholesale for a brief time he never operated crack houses, he never had an organization of dealers, and he never got involved in drug violence. Yet he’s doing a life prison term.

What’s more, very few of the supposed men of justice, the ones whose careers were advanced partly due to Rick Wershe’s life of sin and life as a secret informant, have done anything to help him.

One retired narc who used Wershe extensively to make undercover drug buys when Rick was 14 and15 years old has turned his back on Wershe. This guy has a new life now. He’s reportedly a big man in his church. Yet people who know him say he won’t do a thing to help Wershe get a parole. He could help, but he won’t. Apparently he only consorts with the “saved” nowadays.

Yes, Rick Wershe is a sinner. But he’s paid for his sins many times over AND he has helped the so-called law and order men put many dangerous criminals in prison. He’s disrupted at least two murder plots—from prison. He helped the FBI ensnare about a dozen corrupt cops—from prison. The ex-narc who has turned his back on the sinner who once helped him arrest drug dealers ought to ask himself a question many Christians like to ask themselves: What would Jesus do?

Here’s a hint: He wouldn’t turn His back on someone in need. I can’t find anything in the gospels where Jesus turned His back on anyone who needed help. 

Then there’s the Detroit Assistant United States Attorney who promised Rick Wershe he would go “balls to the wall” to help him with his life prison sentence in the state system if Wershe would just help him nail a murder-for-hire gang by testifying before a federal grand jury. Wershe stepped up and did his part. The Assistant United States Attorney totally forgot his promise to Wershe. He’s done nothing to help him. We’re left to wonder if this Justice Dept. attorney's word is worth anything. Rick Wershe believes he knows the answer to that one.

At least a dozen FBI agents or supervisors used Rick Wershe’s undercover informant work to make cases, which helped advance their careers. FBI special agent Herman Groman says he turned over to the DEA—Drug Enforcement Administration—information provided by Richard Wershe, Jr. which helped that agency prosecute the “Best Friends” murder-for-hire gang mentioned above. Wershe returned to Detroit from prison to testify before a federal grand jury for the DEA and the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office. With Rick Wershe’s help, a 56-count grand jury indictment was returned and most of the Best Friends gang was sent to prison.

Yet, when Wershe came up for parole in 2003, two DEA agents lined up against parole for him and testified AGAINST him. He remains in prison to this day. Why did the DEA turn on an informant who helped them make a big case? Why did the DEA help bury one of the FBI’s most productive informants of the 1980s and early 90s? The answer to that question remains a mystery to this day.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. started down this road in 1984 when a pair of FBI agents was talking with his father, Richard J. Wershe, Sr. about what he knew about various crimes. The senior Wershe, now deceased, was often on the edge of right and wrong. That same year, the elder Wershe was “opened up” as a formal confidential informant for the FBI.

FBI agents sometimes met with the senior Wershe in the presence of the junior Wershe. It didn’t take long for the Detroit FBI to discover the younger Wershe knew plenty about the Curry Brothers, a politically-connected east side drug gang they had in their case sights. Johnny Curry was married to Cathy Volsan Curry, the attractive niece of Detroit’s then-mayor, the late Coleman Young. As was explained in a previous blog (White Boy Rick—A Child Of Coleman Young’s Detroit) Young had long been a target of the FBI dating back to his days as a leftist radical in the Red Scare McCarthy era. That made the criminal associates of Coleman Young’s relatives of high interest to the Bureau.

The FBI had a dilemma, at first, in dealing with the younger Wershe. He was very young. He was 14 years old. Yet he had grown up in a racially mixed neighborhood and knew the guys in the ‘hood. They knew the white kid as Ricky. While the federal rules on juvenile informants can be murky, the Detroit FBI agents figured they were on shaky ground using a teenager as a snitch in a dangerous drug gang investigation. They knew if they asked for permission from the cover-your-own-ass-at-all-costs guys back at headquarters, the answer would be ‘no.’

But overall FBI agents are a smart bunch. They quickly realized that the Wershes—father and son—had the same name, with Senior and Junior as the distinguishing identifiers. What if they started using young Richard J. Wershe Jr. as an informant in the Curry Brothers investigation and filed the informant reports as information coming from simply “Richard Wershe?” What if they just happened to forget to note whether the information came from Senior, an adult, or Junior, a minor? Perfect. Sort of.

We need to remember the FBI is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So it has bureaucratic ways. FBI files are case-based. Case investigative reports are written on forms known as 302s. Informant information is placed in a case file as an insert. Then there are case memos which are periodic summaries and there are teletypes to headquarters in Washington, keeping the muckety mucks informed about progress on major cases. Some of the FBI file information about the informant work of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has been released in the course of various Rick Wershe court matters and it is heavily redacted. That is, parts are blacked out for various reasons known as exemptions under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Federal agencies sometimes respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for files by turning over blank or blacked-out pages.

An insert in the Wershe file dated 6/27/84 (Rick was 14 at the time. His birthday is in July.) states in part, “Source also advised there is an individual in the neighborhood known as—blacked-out—in which—blacked-out—owns and has seen piles of cocaine. Source is willing to make buys or introduce an undercover Agent to the right people.”

This wasn’t Richard J. Wershe, Sr. It was the junior Wershe. The father didn’t know the young dopers. His son did.

A teletype to headquarters two days later noted Richard Wershe Senior’s informant code name would be “Gem.” When informant payments were made, Wershe—Richard J. Wershe Jr.—would sign for the money as “Gem.”

I recently asked White Boy Rick—Richard J. Wershe Jr.—how he signed for the informant payments he received from the FBI when he was confidentially snitching on the Curry Brothers drug gang. “Gem,” he replied. He didn’t know I had researched the answer.

By November of 1984, when Richard Wershe Jr. was all of 15 years old, he was providing information that helped other federal law enforcement agencies, too. In one case the beneficiary of Rick Wershe’s informant work was the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—ATF.  An FBI informant insert reads, in part:

“On November, 20, 1984, source provided positive information regarding location of several stolen guns in a home on the lower east side of Detroit. On November 21, 1984, DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT, along with ALCOHOL TOBACCO AND FIREARMS (ATF) Agents recovered 20 guns, 112 of which (sic) were recently stolen out of a neighboring home. Two individuals were arrested including subject—blacked out.”

An alert reader might wonder how the number of guns cited in the insert jumped from 20 to 112. A purely speculative guess is that an extra “1” was mistakenly added and the writer meant to say 12, not 112.

The other point in citing this informant-based raid is that ATF benefited from Rick Wershe’s informant work—without lifting a finger. They were handed the information. They did a raid with the Detroit Police who also skimmed the gravy of Rick Wershe’s informant work and both law enforcement agencies got fresh enforcement stats.  Yet ATF has done nothing to help Rick Wershe now that he needs their help. As for the Detroit Police, well…

This is a minor incident but they add up. This FBI informant “insert” shows there are errors in federal law enforcement investigative reports which are never corrected, never challenged. And it shows the disdain federal agents—in this case from the ATF—have for people who risk their necks to help them make cases.

It’s true that many informants are slimeballs, scumbags, and criminals manipulating the system to stay out of jail and keep committing crimes. But others do not fit that description. Yet, too many cops—federal, state and local—don’t seem to make a distinction between one informant and another. Far too many of them don’t seem to care what happens to their informants. They are there to be used and exploited to make cases and when they’re no longer useful, it’s on to the next case and a new snitch or two.

But hey. There are so many cases and so many informants. Who has time to worry about what happens to them and what happens to so-called justice?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Informants: The Disorder Side of Law and Order

Hands down, the most infamous snitch of all time has to be a guy named Judas Iscariot. He ratted out a troublesome Jewish preacher and the rest is history.

If the passing of secret information involves governments, we call it spying or espionage. Informants, snitches, rats, spies, whatever we call them, they have always been part of the story of humanity. Informants aren’t just criminals, either.

Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI in the early 70s, was revealed near the end of his life as the infamous “Deep Throat” secret informant for Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Felt provided the Post with key information that helped the newspaper bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
The FBI's Mark Felt-aka-Deep Throat in the Watergate scandal. AP Photo

Thus, one of the top executives of the federal government’s premier law enforcement agency was himself an informant, albeit for a newspaper investigation not a criminal case.

What the American people need to know but most don’t know is how central informants are to the functioning of our criminal justice system. Snitches enable prosecutions, especially in major drug conspiracy cases. Informants are “essential to obtaining convictions in nearly all significant cases,” David Hickton, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The United States takes pride in having a “justice” system that is hopefully fair and presumably open. Court files, with the exception of certain sensitive information sealed by a judge’s order, are open to public inspection. If you have the time and inclination you can browse the court record on millions of criminal and civil cases.

We conduct trials and hearings in open court with legal representation for the opposing parties and a jury system to decide which side will prevail in a dispute. We insist the parties file certain on-the-record papers as part of the process. If someone is accused of a crime, they are entitled to face their accusers in a court of law. Judges like to tell juries they are the triers of fact while the judge applies the law. Open proceedings are one of the features that set our court system apart from dictatorships. 

But there is a dark side to the system and it has enormous influence every day over what we like to think is law and order. It is the wheeling and dealing and information-in-exchange-for-lesser-punishment trading that goes on between informants, the police and prosecutors.

In her book Snitching, Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at the Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles, compares the public versus secret informant elements of American criminal justice. She writes: “Snitching is the clandestine, black-market version of this process. It resolves guilt mainly off the record, without rules, at the discretion of individual law enforcement officials.”

In more than a few cases, murderers have gotten away with murder. If a killer can help prosecutors nail a Big Fish, he may do 10 years, or less. In one case a major drug trafficker got to keep millions of dollars of his drug profits and he was allowed to have a satellite terminal in his prison cell with which to buy and sell stock because he helped the “Justice” Department make a big case.

When judges get involved, the snitch’s deal with the police and prosecution is usually a done deal. As for prosecutors, they don’t get involved with informants until it’s absolutely necessary.  Informant work is dirty business and many prosecutors don’t want to know the ugly details of the deal the cops have cut with their snitch. Informants are sometimes allowed to commit crimes while snitching as long as the crimes aren't violent. 

Then too, if an informant is valuable, the police jealously guard the informant’s identity knowing assistant U.S. attorneys and assistant county prosecutors often turn to private practice and become defense attorneys and take their case knowledge with them.

The recruitment and development of confidential informants is a requirement for FBI special agents. It is part of their performance evaluation. These human resources can be violent, low-life criminals looking to get a deal on how much prison time they may be facing or they can be law abiding citizens. On the good-citizen side of the ledger, one of the City of Detroit’s career auditors, Gerald O’Neill, provided endless information and tips to the FBI about situations where he suspected criminal wrongdoing in the disbursement of taxpayer money. His tips to the FBI lead to several major public corruption cases.

Informant development is not a tidy or risk-free process for any law enforcement agency. The FBI is no exception. In 2005, the Justice Department Inspector General released the results of an audit which studied 120 FBI informant files from around the country. The audit showed agents had violated Bureau policy in 87% of the cases examined.

At least the FBI has an informant policy. The same can’t be said for many local police departments. They all have informants, but the use of informants to make criminal cases is often a fly-by-the-seat-of-the pants proposition.

Many informants are in it for the money; they are paid informants. The FBI has designated informant payment accounts and rules which say two agents should be present when an informant is getting federal dollars, to ensure there are two witnesses to the payment, how much it was for, who received the funds and so on.

Contrast this with local law enforcement. Payments are usually one-to-one between an officer and his or her snitch. Where does the money come from? Heh heh. Ahem. Some departments have “special operations” funds, but many don’t. In truth, the money to pay snitches is often stolen by the police during drug raids.

Usually when narcs raid a drug pad they find cash, and sometimes a lot of it. If there is, say, $25,000 in cash in stacks in a drawer, who’s to say it wasn’t $22,000? Some narc skims a few grand out of the stack and it goes to pay informants on other cases, or it may go in his pocket as we saw in the Detroit 10th Precinct Conspiracy case. (See the Blog post “The Gangsterization of Detroit”) 

In some cases the narcs steal cash from the dope dealers to cover the bar tab when the cops wind down at the end the night at a favorite watering hole. Police thievery from criminals is somehow okay in the minds of certain people with badges and guns.

Much has been made of the fact the FBI recruited and began using Richard J. Wershe Jr. as a paid informant at the age of 14. It must be against the law, right? Or it must be against some policy, right? Well, where does it say that? Federal law enforcement policy on the use of juvenile informants is far from clear to this day.

Several official Justice Department and FBI documents about the recruitment and use of informants are available online.

Is there anything in the FBI Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines from 1998 about the use of juvenile informants? Not a word.

Is there any mention of juvenile informants in former Attorney General Janet Reno’s Confidential Informant Guidelines of 2001, which supposedly tightened the rules for dealing with snitches? Nope.

Is there anything about the use of teen-aged informants in the 314-page Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report of 2005 about the FBI’s use of informants? Nothing.

How about in the updated Attorney General guidelines on the use of informants from December, 2006? Nada, zip, zero.

The care and feeding of federal law enforcement informants is complicated by the fact special agents change offices from time to time, and in the case of the FBI which has jurisdiction over multiple criminal violations, agents move from squad to squad in a large field division office for various reasons. In a big office like Detroit, if an agent moves to a different squad, the informant remains under the control of another agent on the squad handling the informant’s area of criminal specialty, so to speak.

Fourteen year old Rick Wershe became an FBI drug informant by happenstance. His late father, Richard J. Wershe Sr. was a hustler who was always on the edge of the law. Wershe Sr. became a registered FBI paid informant as something of an insurance policy. If he stepped over the line and faced charges, his role as an FBI informer might be a lifeline.

Wershe Sr.’s FBI “handler” was an agent named James Dixon, now retired. Special Agent Dixon essentially worked white collar crime and fraud violations. One day Dixon and another agent were visiting the Wershe home on Detroit’s east side. There were some drug dealing suspects living in the area so, according to the fading memories of those involved, including Rick Wershe Jr. himself, the agents produced some surveillance photos and placed them on the table. Did Richard Wershe, Sr. know any of these guys? Um, no. But his 14-year old son Ricky knew a lot of the people in the ‘hood. The senior Wershe called his son over to the table and asked if he knew any of these guys in the photos.

“Sure,” Ricky said. “That’s Little Man. That’s Big Man,” and so on. The agents realized the kid knew a lot about the Curry Brothers drug gang, an outfit the FBI was interested in under its new (back then) mandate to investigate major drug conspiracies.

Young Richard J. Wershe, Jr. wasn’t recruited to be an all-purpose narcotics underworld informant. He became an informant for a specific case—the Curry Brothers case. 

Initially, in his early teen years, Rick Wershe, Jr.’s informant work focused on the case the FBI was making against the Curry Brothers. Over the course of the case, the Curry investigation changed hands within the Detroit FBI.

The vagaries of FBI agent squad assignments for agents explain how White Boy Rick started his informant life under the guidance of Special Agent Jim Dixon, was handed off to Special Agent Herm Groman and ultimately the Curry case wound up in the final stretch under the control of Special Agent Gregg Schwarz. Special Agent Schwarz was never White Boy Rick’s “handler,” however.

As noted, Dixon worked primarily on white collar crime and fraud. Groman was assigned to the narcotics squad but moved to the public corruption squad as the Curry investigation was wrapping up. Schwarz was on the fugitive squad but transferred to the narcotics squad and took over the Curry case when Groman moved to the public corruption squad. Got all that?

The details of Richard Wershe, Jr.’s life as an FBI snitch—the teen years—will be the subject of another post on Informant America.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Gangsterization of Detroit

In a self-published autobiography I’m sure you never heard of, a brash full-of-himself dope dealer from Detroit ended his 231-page love letter to himself by saying, “Hell. Somebody had to take over this city. Why not me?”

That’s an arrogant attitude, especially coming from a convicted dope slinger, but Y.B.I—Young Boys Incorporated, The Autobiography of Butch Jones tells us something about the mindset of Detroit’s criminal element when Richard J. Wershe Jr., aka White Boy Rick, was growing up on the city’s east side.

Wershe is a key figure in Informant America posts because, a) his life is more than a story; it’s an amazing saga and, b) his role as an FBI informant is a good tutorial on the dark, dark world of police informants.

In the previous post we noted in detail an infamous criminal case from the early 70s known as the 10th Precinct case or the Pingree Street Conspiracy. We recounted how Detroit heroin dealers conspired with corrupt cops to succeed and to dominate an ever more competitive market for the stuff of white powder dreams. 

The lead defendant in that case was Sgt. Rudy Davis, the precinct narcotics crew chief in the Detroit Police Department’s 10th Precinct. Davis was convicted and sent to prison. But before that he and his crew were protecting dope dealers who were bribing them and as part of the deal Davis and his other corrupt narcs were robbing the dope houses of competitors. One of those competitors was Milton “Butch” Jones.

"...whenever I would see or even hear that Rudy Davis was ridin' around the hood I would close down,” Jones wrote in his autobiography. “Because that was one guy that did intimidate me. Here was this guy that had the law behind him, a gun, and was also crazy as hell, so hell yeah that fool scared me."

Jones complained in his book that Sgt. Davis and his crew robbed his dope houses several times. "Gettin' rid of him was the best thang that the police department could have ever done,” Jones wrote. “Man did they do me a big favor."

Young Boys Incorporated or YBI, the drug gang Jones helped create, had an innovative business strategy. He and his partners used boys under the age of 18 to handle retail street operations as much as possible. The police could not make a traditional narcotics case against juveniles. The Young Boys Incorporated gang was an innovator in the dope trade. The kids-peddling-dope innovation began in the 1970s so it wasn’t shocking in the early 80s when Richard Wershe, Jr. worked his way inside another major drug organization.

Jones and the YBI organization set new standards for boldness. They would frequently go to entertainment events as a group of 20 to 40. They were all dressed in the YBI “colors”—red and white. Red stood for blood and white stood for “China White”, the heroin they were selling.

Jones bought numerous Corvettes for his main players and bragged in his book about the time they drove as a group to the Cedar Point amusement park in northern Ohio.

"There were roughly eighty cars headed down the freeway," Jones wrote. "...when we got to the freeway we was holdin' the west side down baby!” Jones makes it clear they wanted people to notice.  “Man we was flyin' down the freeway with those flat-top John Dillenger (sic) (straw boater) hats on like we owned the mothaf**ka."

Milton Jones also wrote about his drug gang’s disdain for the police.

"Man we took over the freeway that day. And check, the police wasn't nowhere to found and if they was, they must've got specific orders not to mess with the Y.B.I."

Federal indictments and convictions eventually put Young Boys Incorporated out of business. Milton Butch Jones is in prison serving a long sentence for operating a continuing criminal enterprise. But the problem of brazen drug dealing only got worse in the 80s, which were Rick Wershe’s teen years. It was the era when young Wershe was recruited to be a confidential informant for the FBI.

Crack cocaine engulfed the Motor City in the early 80s. The public outcry, the demand for action, was intense. It was worse, if possible, than the heroin epidemic that began in the aftermath of the 1967 riot.

When crack cocaine flooded the city, federal law enforcement was pressed in to action in the “War on Drugs” being waged on the streets of cities like Detroit. The FBI, DEA, Customs, Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), IRS criminal investigators and the Immigration Investigations unit were tasked with doing “something” about the crack epidemic.

For the Federal Bureau of Investigation, combating narcotics was a big culture shock. Bureau agents had the smarts, they had the law enforcement tools, but most didn’t have experience with drug investigations.

A little background: I reported on the adventures of the Detroit FBI for many years. I got to know many of the agents well. I got to know more than most reporters about how the FBI works. Even the agency name has significance, in my view. It is the Federal BUREAU of INVESTIGATION. Part of the FBI culture is immersed in Bureaucracy. Part of the FBI culture is immersed in Investigation. Over time I came to view the FBI as an 80/20 organization.

I concluded 80% of the FBI’s agents did 20% of the work. Conversely, in my view, 20% of the agents did 80% of the work. The 80% were paper shufflers who went to great lengths to avoid making cases that might actually go to court. Retired FBI agent Gregg Schwarz, a hard-charger who admits he can be, um, outspoken, once launched in to a tirade in front of the Detroit SAC—Special Agent in Charge. Unlike other federal law enforcement agencies who refer to the boss as the “Sack” (SAC) the FBI prefers to pronounce each letter; S—A—C. They think it’s more elegant, I guess.

Back the Schwarz story. He was on the carpet in the SAC’s office, being admonished for some FBI rules transgression. He told the SAC that from that point forward he was going to become the perfect agent, one who never gets in trouble for trying to do the job in a dirty world of liars, hustling criminals and dope dealers.

Launching into a tirade, Schwarz said from that point forward he was going to do like many of his fellow Detroit FBI agents. He would show up for work on time, then go to out to breakfast with his squad on taxpayer time and gossip about other agents and Bureau politics. After a long, leisurely squad breakfast, Schwarz told the boss, he would come back to the FBI office, and join many other agents in changing in to workout clothes to go jogging on the taxpayers’ time and dime on Detroit’s Belle Isle, a recreation island in the middle of the Detroit River. Gotta stay in shape to fight crime, don’tcha know.

The big, long morning fitness run would be followed, Schwarz promised, by a nice long lunch, again on the taxpayers’ time, to be followed by hitting the streets to check out vague and mysterious “leads” that might, someday, if the stars aligned correctly, generate a real case. Before you know it, Schwarz told the SAC, it would be time to go home with no worries about getting censured for bureaucratic transgressions while doing real case work.

In my 80/20 example, 20% of the agents did 80% of the work. They were the real investigators, the get-it-done agents, the guys who didn’t watch the clock. The FBI 20-percenters included agents like Ned “Ned the Fed” Timmons, who told me he once had to explain to a  stuffed shirt boss why he didn’t get a receipt for the bar tab when he bought drinks for some badass biker/dopers while he was working undercover on a major drug investigation.

Saturday night I was downtown
Working for the FBI
Sittin' in a nest of bad men
Whiskey bottles piling high
(Opening lyric of Long Cool Woman—The Hollies)

Young Boys, Incorporated weren’t the only players on the dope scene that the FBI and other federal agencies were investigating. 

The Chambers Brothers gang rivaled Young Boys Incorporated in terms of dope dealing success and the sheer scale of their operation. The Chambers gang also figures in the Rick Wershe story. They will be discussed in future posts.

Other gangs with hip names came and went, leaving plenty of dead bodies in the streets. The smart dealers endured longer. Demetrius Holloway is one example.

Scott Burnstein, author of the book The Detroit True Crime Chronicles wrote: ”Holloway was a business man’s gangster with a lethal reputation on the streets. He dressed like a corporate CEO, yet wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty either when the situation called for it. Smart, magnetic, feared and respected, Holloway embodied every quality of the consummate crime lord. It was a powerful mix that took him to astronomic heights.”

Using the corporation analogy, it’s fair to say Holloway’s Chief Operating Officer was Maserati Rick Carter. As the name suggests, Carter was flamboyant—until he was murdered. Violent disputes are common in the drug underworld and Carter became the victim of one such dispute.

Carter gave another dope dealer a shipment of cocaine on credit but a feud broke out when Carter tried to collect. There were several street shoot-outs until Carter finally got shot and was hospitalized for his wounds. While he was in the hospital, a hitman posing as a doctor went to Carter’s hospital room and finished him off.

Photo: Detroit Free Press
Maserati Rick Carter went out the way he lived. He was buried in a coffin decorated to resemble a Mercedes Benz.

Holloway, too, was murdered by hitmen who shot him in the head while he shopped for socks at a men’s clothier located a block from Detroit Police Headquarters.

Another major drug organization lasted through most of the 80s by keeping a low profile. Johnny, Leo and Rudell Curry—the Curry Brothers—were not a brazen as Young Boys Incorporated and not as flashy as Maserati Rick, but they made plenty of money slinging dope.

The Curry organization was headed up by Johnny Curry, a savvy businessman who enjoyed a special relationship with the Detroit Police. Johnny was married to Cathy Volsan, the good-looking favorite niece of Detroit’s powerful mayor, Coleman Young. The mayor had an extensive personal security detail and part of their duties included protecting the mayor’s family. In the case of Cathy Volsan Curry, that meant keeping law enforcement trouble away from her door, even though she was married to one of the city’s biggest dope dealers. 

The Curry organization was cruising along selling cocaine and raking in piles of cash. Then the FBI discovered that a white kid in the Curry’s neighborhood was friendly with them, and was trusted. That kid was Richard J. Wershe, Jr., later to be known as White Boy Rick.

For the FBI Rick was a gold mine of information about the Currys. There was just one problem. He was 14 years old. Recruiting a 14-year old to be an FBI confidential informant was dangerous business. The feds did it anyway.

Wershe went on to become a prolific FBI informant about Detroit’s drug underworld. Retired Detroit FBI agent John Anthony says Rick Wershe is arguably the most productive informant the FBI’s Detroit office has ever had in terms of convictions made with his help. Yet, Wershe remains in prison, denied parole for vague and mysterious reasons.

Future posts on Informant America will use law enforcement’s own documents and files to show the claim that Richard Wershe Jr. was a drug lord, a drug kingpin and a menace to society is totally false.