Sunday, May 31, 2015

A police murder investigation goes astray - apparently on purpose.

Johnny Curry was pissed. That’s the way Rick Wershe, Jr. remembers the Curry gang discussion in the spring of 1985 regarding what to do about the unintended murder of a 13-year old Detroit boy named Damion Lucas.

On the night of April 29, 1985, several members of the Curry drug organization shot up a car owned by a Detroiter named Robert Walton and they shot up the home of another Detroiter, Leon Lucas. The men were cousins.

Walton had cheated them on lodging and entertainment they had prepaid him to arrange a few weeks earlier in relation to a prize fight in Las Vegas between Marvin Hagler and Detroit boxer Tommy Hearns.

In a separate matter Leon Lucas owed them money for dope they had given him on consignment; dope he lost in a police drug raid. Now Lucas owed them money for the dope they fronted him. Some members of the Curry group decided to teach Walton and Lucas a lesson with a pair of drive-by shootings which were preceded earlier that same day with a threatening phone call.

When they shot up the home of Leon Lucas he wasn’t there, but his two nephews, ages 13 and 11 were at the house watching television. At least 20 shots from Mac 10 and Mac 11 automatic weapons were fired into the house. One of the bullets slammed in to the chest of 13-year old Damion Lucas, killing him.

Johnny Curry, a habitually careful dope dealer, now found himself in damage control mode for the impetuous, foolish actions of his cohorts, made worse by telephone threats that same day. Curry knew Leon Lucas and Robert Walton knew who was responsible for the shooting. The idiots in his crew had called and threatened the shootings just hours before they did the deeds. And Curry figured, correctly, that Lucas and Walton would tell the police about the telephone threat that preceded the fatal shooting.

Johnny called a meeting of his gang and told everyone to keep their mouths shut. He also suggested they “lay low”—keep a low profile on the streets. If anyone came around asking questions, their orders were to dummy up about the shooting of the little boy. There were about half a dozen guys at the post-shooting strategy meeting. One of them was Richard Wershe, Jr., who was a confidential informant for the FBI.

Meanwhile, on the top floors of the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit, a federal drug task force led by the FBI was gearing up to listen to Johnny Curry’s telephone calls. They were working to convinced a federal judge they had probable cause to suspect Curry was leading a major drug trafficking scheme.

In the movies we see often see scenes of cops sitting in vans bristling with listening gear, wearing headsets while they wait for the bad guys to say something incriminating. In real life, it doesn’t work that way.

Federal agents working a major criminal case will build their investigation to a point where they can convince a judge that they need to listen in on the telephone calls of a single suspect or an entire gang.

If they meet that threshold, the judge issues a court order known as a Title III (Title 3), which is a section of the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. In federal criminal cases judges, attorneys and federal agents refer to wiretaps and electronic intercepts as a “Title III.”

Once a judge authorizes a Title III, the order is presented to the local telephone company. The phone company, in turn, routes all calls to and from the target telephone line to a listen-in line at the offices of the federal agency conducting the investigation. It's like the feds have an extension phone in their offices.

The phone company adjusts the signal on the phone line so no one can tell there is a tap on the phone. Anti-bugging gear is useless against a wiretap originated within the telephone company. The agents, meanwhile, sit in a designated room with an array of audio recorders and headsets. In a busy FBI or DEA office there may be several Title III operations underway at the same time.

A wiretap is often preceded by the use of a device known as a pen register. It is a small device that records the date, time and length of a call to or from a target phone number. It does not record the call itself; merely the data associated with the call. Many people see this kind of data in their itemized cell phone bills.

The morning after Damion Lucas was murdered, an FBI pen register on the home phone of Johnny Curry showed a short phone call to the unlisted home phone of Detroit Police Sgt. James Harris, a member of the mayor’s security detail with responsibility for looking out for the mayor’s relatives, particularly his niece, Cathy Volsan, who had a penchant for running with known dope dealers. At the time, she was the fiancĂ© of Johnny Curry.

The call from Johnny Curry’s home phone to the home phone of Sgt. Harris was followed by a much longer call to a private unlisted line at Detroit Police Headquarters. The line was to the office of Inspector Gil Hill, the head of the Homicide section.

FBI interest in this sequence of phone calls listed by the pen register intensified a few days later when Special Agent Herm Groman, now retired, received a phone call from Richard Wershe, Jr., who was working as an FBI confidential informant.

Groman recalls it was a routine “reporting in” kind of call except for one thing; Wershe said he had been present at a meeting of the Curry gang when they discussed their responsibility for the death of Damion Lucas and what they needed to do to avoid police scrutiny.

Wershe recalls Groman was quite interested when he told the agent about the Curry gang discussion of the little boy’s murder. Wershe remembers Groman told him if he heard any more, to call him ASAP. Wershe told me recently he wasn’t able to do any more regarding the murder because he wasn't in a position to ask questions among the Curry dopers about the Damion Lucas killing without raising suspicion.

Within a couple of days the FBI received court authorization to place a wiretap on Johnny Curry’s home phone. Almost immediately, the wiretap generated tantalizing results. One phone call in particular led agents to wonder if they might have a case of police obstruction of justice in addition to the drug case they were building against the Currys.

On May 4, 1985, Johnny Curry had a phone conversation with someone known as “Fuzzy.” They discussed the murder of Damion Lucas and the Curry group’s responsibility for it. They focused part of the conversation on Wyman Jenkins, a top lieutenant in the Curry organization. Fuzzy wanted to know if Jenkins knew there was a police spotlight on him regarding the killing.

Curry told Fuzzy: “He, O.K., from my contacts I got that he’s a number one suspect.”

Number one suspect? How did Johnny Curry know that? His contacts? Who were his contacts?

Curry continued: “…but, you know, like Wyman f**ked up when he called over there and threatened them people, you know? Mmm hmm. That’s why I’m in the house right now, just layin’ low, and I told Wyman, you know, ah, he right now, he got to stroke hisself this one.”

Fuzzy; “Yep.”

Curry: “S**t. He got ta weather hisself outta this one, cause they went and did a dumbass move by killing that little boy. Man, that’s a little boy, s**t.”

The Detroit police, meanwhile, focused all their attention on another man, ignoring information from Leon Lucas and Robert Walton that they were sure the Currys were responsible for the murder.

It made no sense to ignore information from the intended victims of the shootings, to look in another direction, unless someone wanted the investigation to go astray.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

One Murder But Several Victims

In April, 1985 a 13-year old Detroit boy was killed when someone raked the front of his uncle’s house with automatic weapons fire. One of the bullets hit Damion Lucas in the chest and killed him. His murder has never been prosecuted even though numerous people believe they know who did it. Richard Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—told the FBI about a discussion of the murder by a dope gang that was responsible.

One of the fundamentals of criminal investigation is the need for speed. That is, get on the case while it’s fresh, while memories are vivid and clear. Being “hot on the trail” has long meant being close to capturing or catching a target of prey.

Detroit Police homicide detectives are seasoned hands at getting hot on the trail of murder investigations because they have so many of them. They know time is important.

The murder of 13-year old Damion Lucas on April 29, 1985 was one of 514 homicides in Detroit that year. Sadly, that was a good year, murder-wise, for a city once known as the Motor City and now derided in many quarters as the Murder City.

After Damion Lucas was killed in a drive-by shooting at his uncle’s northwest Detroit home, Detroit homicide dicks did what they’ve always done. They brought witnesses “downtown” to the dingy fifth floor offices of the Homicide section for interviews. The detectives asked questions. They took statements. They canvassed the neighborhood for more witnesses. Then they ignored key tips and tried to make a case against an innocent man.

As explained in the previous blog post Damion Lucas and his younger brother Frankie were orphans living with their uncle, Leon Lucas—a small time heroin dealer and con man. Leon Lucas had a reputation for skill at creating “mixed jive”, a heroin concoction. Lucas told me in a 1988 interview that Johnny Curry, a major dope dealer on the East side with important political connections, hired him to whip up mixed jive the Curry gang could sell. An illegal business relationship developed. Curry was the head of an operation that included his brothers, Leo and Rudell Curry.

Leon Lucas had a cousin, Robert Walton, who was also a hustler. In early 1985 the police raided Leon Lucas’ dope operation and confiscated his drugs and his money. He had the dope on consignment from the Currys, so he found himself owing the Currys money. Meanwhile, Robert Walton had convinced the Currys he had connections to help secure accommodations in Las Vegas for the April, 1985 prize fight between Marvin Hagler and Detroit’s Tommy Hearns. They paid him to handle it. When the Currys got to Las Vegas, they discovered the hotel accommodations Walton had “arranged” didn’t exist. They came home angry at being conned. And they were angry that Leon Lucas owed them money.

Some members of the Curry organization decided to teach Leon Lucas and Robert Walton a lesson. The result was shots were fired into a car at Robert Walton’s home and into the house itself at Leon Lucas’ residence. Damion Lucas was killed in the fusillade “lesson.”

“I automatically knew it was the Currys,” Leon Lucas told me in an interview in 1988. He says he told that to Detroit Police Homicide detectives. His cousin, Robert Walton, told them the same thing.

Yet, the police set their sights on another man named LeKeas Davis. He and Leon Lucas had had a noisy argument the week before Damion Lucas was killed. LeKeas Davis threatened to kill Leon Lucas and said it loud enough that neighbors could hear what he said.

When detectives interviewed the neighbors of Leon Lucas they told them about the dispute between Davis and Lucas.

They also told the police the shooters were driving a white car. LaKeas Davis drove a white Ford Escort.

Davis had other problems, too. A witness picked him out of a lineup. And his friends were vague about whether he was with them at the time of the fatal shooting.

LaKeas Davis told the police he was innocent. Leon Lucas told detectives he and Davis had patched up their differences. It didn’t matter. The police focused their homicide investigation on Davis in the Damion Lucas murder. They apparently did nothing with the information from 
Leon Lucas and Robert Walton, the two intended targets of the drive-by shooting who said they believed it was the work of Leo Curry and Wyman Jenkins, two members of the Curry Brothers drug gang. Lucas said Leo Curry and Wyman Jenkins called the morning of the fatal shooting and made threats that his house would be shot up because he owed them money for the dope the police had seized.

And Leon Lucas told the police one more thing—something that may have influenced how the investigation was handled. He said Johnny Curry was engaged to Cathy Volsan, the favorite niece of the late Coleman Young, then the powerful mayor of the City of Detroit. In the days and weeks that followed the Detroit Police focused all of their investigative attention on making a murder case against LaKeas Davis.

Several days later, Richard Wershe, Jr., then working as a confidential informant for the FBI, overheard a discussion of the murder among the Curry gang and he reported what he heard to FBI Special Agent Herman Groman. His tip would take on urgent significance when Groman began to review the transcripts of a court-authorized wiretap that had just been installed on the phone line of Johnny Curry.

More on that in the next blog post.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Murder of Damion Lucas

In the spring of 1985 a young Detroit boy named Damion Lucas was killed in a fusillade of bullets meant as a “message” for his uncle. Damion's unintended murder was the work of members of Detroit’s Currry drug dealing organization. Richard Wershe, Jr. was working as a confidential FBI informant within the Curry organization when the murder occurred. He told the FBI the Curry group was responsible for the Damion Lucas murder. The life of Richard Wershe, Jr. and the trajectory of Detroit city politics would never be the same. 

Home alone. It was the evening of April 29, 1985. Thirteen-year old Damion Lucas and his little brother, 11-year old Frankie Lucas, also known as Little Robert, were by themselves watching TV in their uncle’s home in the 19-thousand block of Marlowe St. on Detroit’s north side. 

The boys had each other but not much more. They were orphaned in 1984 when their mother died. Since her passing they had been wards of their uncle, Leon Lucas.

Suddenly, without warning, shots rang out, at least 20 of them. Bullets from automatic weapons riddled the front of their uncle’s house. The boys ran for the basement. They could hide there. Maybe they’d be safe. They didn’t make it.

Damion said, “Little Robert, I’m shot,” Frankie later told his uncle amid a torrent of tears. Frankie’s big brother had collapsed in front of the kitchen stove. Frankie tried to lift him. He was too heavy.

This being Detroit, little Frankie Lucas knew what to do. His voice filled with fear Frankie called 911:

“Could you send the police to 19965 Marlowe? Somebody just shot at my house. Please!”

The 911 operator, in a trained and experienced voice calmly asked him to calm down and give the address again.

Exasperated, Frankie Lucas repeated the address, and then wailed:

“My brother on the floor dyin’! Please!!”

One of the slugs from the fusillade of bullets had come through a wall and hit Damion Lucas in the chest. In another part of the house a bullet had torn through a wall just above the bed of one of the boys. On the bed was a stuffed monkey named Curious George after a popular character featured in a series of children’s books and a kid’s TV show.

The 911 operator continued to elicit information from Frankie Lucas:

“Somebody just shot your brother?”

“Yes! I don’t know what to do! Please!”

The operator asked more questions and determined the shots had come into the house from outside. Then she asked about the boys’ parents.

“They’re gone,” Frankie cried out.

Next, the voice at the other end of the 911 call asked Frankie to give her the address again and the nearest cross street. Frankie told her they lived on Marlowe between Chippewa and Pembroke Avenues. It was on Detroit’s north side between the Lodge Freeway and 8 Mile Road, the street that was the northern city limit for Detroit.

Frankie quickly answered her question but remained focused on his dying brother:

Frankie: “Please tell them to hurry!”

911 Operator: “OK. As soon as they can they’ll be there. OK?”

Frankie: “He not movin’. Please!!”

911 Operator: “OK, OK, OK. They’re coming. Keep your doors locked until they get there.”

Frankie: “OK. He ain’t movin’! Please!!”

Frankie was practically shouting as he said this.

911 Operator: “OK, OK, don’t bother your brother. Don’t touch him. Just wait for the police and EMS.”

Frankie, his voice choked with tears and fear, ended the call with one more plea:

“Please hurry, please!!”

Damion Lucas was rushed to what was then called Mt. Carmel Hospital, a short ambulance ride from the house on Marlowe Street. Damion Lucas was DOA—dead on arrival.

Damion Lucas (Family photo)
In an interview I conducted in 1988 for WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 in Detroit, Leon Lucas recalled talking with Frankie after the fatal shooting.

“Uncle Leon I tried to wake him up. He wouldn’t wake up no more,” Leon Lucas recalled Frankie telling him. “Then he bust out into tears.”

Significantly, minutes before the fatal shooting on Marlowe Street, someone had fired shots into a car parked in the driveway of Robert Walton, a relative of Leon Lucas and his nephews.

Leon Lucas was an admitted small-time heroin dealer and con man. One of his dubious skills was cutting heroin into “mixed jive.”

Leon Lucas and his cousin, Robert Walton, had apparently conned the Curry Brothers drug gang regarding accommodations in Las Vegas for the Marvin Hagler/Tommy Hearns prize fight in Las, Vegas a few weeks before the death of Damion Lucas. When I interviewed Lucas he was in prison on a fraud conviction.

Lucas lived on the North side. The Curry Brothers drug ring operated on the East side. How did he connect with the Currys? The common denominator, according to Lucas was Cathy Volsan, the attractive niece of then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young, now deceased. She was Johnny Curry’s fiancĂ©e and, according to Leon Lucas, he and Cathy were friends.

Lucas said one day Cathy called him to cut some heroin for Johnny and Leo Curry so they could sell it. Lucas cut they heroin as they requested, the street reviews were favorable and a drug dealing relationship developed. Lucas noted the Curry Brothers were getting their heroin from Willie Volsan, Cathy’s father and the brother-in-law of Mayor Young. The information about Willie Volsan being the source of the heroin came from Johnny Curry in a conversation with Leon Lucas.

As part of the illicit business relationship, Leon Lucas started selling heroin for the Currys on consignment. All went well until he lost a batch of heroin and his stash of cash in a police drug raid. Lucas was now indebted to the Currys for the dope and the money the police confiscated.

In the Channel 7 interview I had with Leon Lucas he said the morning of the day Damion died he received a threatening phone call from Leo Curry and an associate named Wyman Jenkins.

“They called and said, ‘We want our money and, you know, we don’t wanna hear no more shit about you giving us our money,” Lucas recalled them saying. He told Curry and Jenkins he didn’t have the money to pay them back. There was an ominous warning on the other end of the line.

“He said, ‘Yeah, well there’ll be some niggas out to your house tonight and then you’ll wish you had gave it to me.’”

In the murder investigation that followed the shooting of Damion Lucas, Leon Lucas and his cousin Robert Walton told the police about the dispute with the Curry gang and the threats the day of the murder. Yet, the police investigation immediately focused on someone else. Eventually the signs would point to obstruction of justice,  a cover-up within the Detroit Police Department.

Those signs included evidence from an FBI wiretap on Johnny Curry’s telephone and subsequent information from Richard Wershe, Jr. about the Curry group’s involvement in the murder of Damion Lucas.

As subsequent blog posts will show, Rick Wershe’s informant information about the Damion Lucas murder appears to be a key element in Rick’s continued imprisonment.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Shots Fired

Richard Wershe Jr.’s life as a teenage FBI informant wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The cocaine trade is a dangerous, sometimes deadly business, as White Boy Rick learned firsthand.

White Boy Rick is miffed. Frustrated may be a better term. I’ve been sending him copies of each week’s blog post on Informant America. Michigan prison inmates don’t have access to the Internet.

“I wish you’d write more about how they all lied,” he told me last week in a phone call from prison. He’s referring to the recollections of former members of the Detroit federal drug task force of the 1980s, mostly retired FBI agents.

There are plenty of lies and half-truths behind the legend of White Boy Rick—Richard J. Wershe, Jr. At various times “the truth” has been shaded, embellished, forgotten or selectively recalled by FBI agents, DEA agents, Detroit Police officers, Assistant United States Attorneys, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutors, and as we shall see in a future blog post, by a former Wayne County prosecutor in a most significant way.

The White Boy Rick legend never would’ve happened without the complicity of the Detroit news media. Most of the reporters who have done stories about White Boy Rick have been, um, shall we say, less than diligent in reporting the true story. The majority of them never did fact-checking on the tale they were spoon fed by cops and prosecutors. If they had they would understand why Wershe says “they all lied.”

But not everyone is lying. Some key aspects of Rick Wershe’s role as a teenaged FBI informant happened over 30 years ago. Even Rick Wershe can’t remember everything that happened in 1984-85. That doesn’t mean he’s lying. He can’t remember. That’s true of everyone.

Wershe scoffed at a comment by Kenneth Walton, a retired FBI agent who was in charge of the Detroit office for a portion of the time Rick was a confidential Bureau informant. Walton said there were no FBI rules back then governing the use of juvenile informants. (See the Informant America blog post, “The Snitch Looked Like Howdy Doody” posted May 3, 2015)

“If there were no rules why did they hide me behind my Dad?” Rick Wershe asks. He’s referring to the fact FBI agents filed informant tips they received from him—Richard Wershe, Junior—in the file they had for Richard Wershe, Senior who was on the Bureau’s books as a listed FBI confidential informant. Rick Wershe’s point is the agents knew what they were doing handling a teenaged informant wasn’t right. If it was, he reasons, they would have created a separate file for him, something that didn’t happen until Wershe Junior was old enough to be considered a young adult.

While we are on the subject of truth and facts, there is a worry that previous blog posts may have left the wrong impression. A reader might get the idea the adventures of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. as a teenaged undercover FBI informant were nothing but excitement and glamor; a cash-rich life of fast cars, fast women and fast travel to places like Las Vegas and Miami, made even more exciting by his role as a secret government informer.

It’s time to tell you about the episode where White Boy Rick got shot and almost died. It happened about six months in to his role as an FBI informant against the Curry Brothers drug organization on Detroit’s east side. 

Johnny Curry was married to Cathy Volsan, the hot young niece of former Detroit mayor Coleman Young, now deceased. Young had members of his Detroit police security detail assigned to insulate his high-living, drug-using niece from law enforcement trouble. 

Consequently, Johnny Curry had unusual access to police narcotics intelligence. Several Detroit police officers worked on the task force and they were duty-bound to keep their superiors informed about task force operations. What others in the police department did with that information is anyone’s guess.

The shooting of Richard Wershe, Jr. in November, 1984, is a matter of muddled memories, including Rick’s. According to Rick a Curry associate named Johnny invited him to his house. Wershe says Johnny was upstairs when he arrived. As Wershe climbed the stairs, he says Johnny shot him in the stomach with a Ruger .357 magnum. According to Rick Wershe, Johnny didn’t say anything and refused to help him. The only reason he’s alive today, Wershe says, is because Johnny's girlfriend called 911.

“I don’t know to this day why he shot me,” Wershe told me recently. Rick says some say it was on orders from Johnny Curry himself because he suspected the white kid was an informant. Some say it was over a girl. Some say it was an accident. “If I had to guess, I think someone told him to do it,” Wershe says. He has nothing but a gut hunch; a gut torn up by a shot from a .357 magnum.

Rick Wershe was shot with a .357 magnum like this one. Photo-World Guns

Wershe was rushed to St. John’s hospital on Detroit’s east side where he underwent surgery. He was in the hospital under the name John Doe. He didn’t have a phone. He wasn’t allowed visitors except for his immediate family. A uniformed police officer was stationed outside his room. “Yet the cops were going around saying it was an accident,” Wershe remembers.

He remembers the doctor who treated him after the shooting said: “I don’t know what you’re involved in but whatever it is, you almost died.”

Ironically, getting shot enhanced Rick Wershe’s “street cred.” In a rough and tough town like Detroit, getting shot is a badge of honor—almost. “People didn’t know why I was shot but they knew I had been shot,” Wershe says. In the minds of more than a few street people, that made him a badass, the real deal.

There were 514 murders in Detroit in 1984. Through good medical care and a dose of pure luck, Richard J. Wershe, Jr. avoided becoming number 515.

Wershe says his relationship with Johnny Curry changed after the shooting. “When I got out of the hospital, Johnny came to see me,” Wershe recalls. “Me and him went for a ride. He said he didn’t have anything to do with it. Truthfully, I think he was more afraid than anything.”

Johnny Curry was a cautious man, Wershe says, and the shooting put the dope dealer in an uncomfortable spotlight. Rick says he never saw Johnny Curry with so much as a joint of marijuana. As for the cocaine he was selling, Johnny Curry wouldn’t go near the stuff. He had others handle it. Wershe says he never bought or sold drugs from or for Johnny Curry.

Despite the shooting, Rick Wershe continued his role as a confidential informant for the FBI. A logical question is, why?

“It was stupid as hell,” Wershe admits. “I should have walked away right then. It shows you how stupid you are when you are 15.”

Equally puzzling is why Johnny Curry continued to allow Rick Wershe to hang around with him after the shooting.

One explanation may be that the shooting actually had nothing to do with Curry or Wershe’s role as a snitch. Maybe it was a personal feud over a girl. Maybe it was an accident. This is one mystery in Rick Wershe’s story that will remain just that; a mystery.

“I wasn’t around much after that,” Wershe recalls in talking about his relationship with Johnny Curry. “He invited me to Vegas for the (Hagler/Hearns} fight but I didn’t go to the fight. I hung out.”

Rick was hanging out with the Currys when another shooting occurred. This one was fatal.

The trip to Las Vegas for the fight was not without trouble. A small-time dope dealer named Leon Lucas had stiffed the Currys on a portion of the trip after he had promised he would take care of all the arrangements. Lucas also owed the Curry organization money for dope that had been given to him on credit. The Curry crowd was not pleased with Leon Lucas.

So a couple of guys in the Curry organization took it upon themselves to teach Leon Lucas a lesson. They wanted him to know you don’t make promises to the Currys that you don’t keep.

On the night of April 29, 1985 Damion Lucas, 13, and his younger brother, Frankie, 11, were watching television at their uncle Leon’s home on Marlowe Street in Detroit. Leon Lucas wasn’t home at the time. The boys were in the house alone when at least 20 shots from automatic weapons tore through the house from the front yard. One of the shots ripped in to the chest of Damion Lucas. The shot was fatal.

Damion Lucas - Family Photo

Frankie Lucas, Damion’s terrified little brother, desperately called 911 in a heart-wrenching call for help which will be detailed in the next blog post.

That shooting had profound implications for criminal justice in Detroit. It ended the life of Damion Lucas, it changed the life of Frankie Lucas, of course, but also it altered the fate of Johnny Curry, Cathy Volsan Curry, Richard Wershe, Jr., a Detroit man named LeKeas Davis, FBI agent Herman Groman and the movie-celebrity head of Detroit Police Homicide, Gil Hill.

Rick Wershe was able to provide the FBI with some critical intelligence about the Lucas murder and apparent police corruption and obstruction of justice. There are strong indications the intrigue surrounding the death of Damion Lucas is a key reason Richard Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—is still in prison to this day.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Snitch Who Looked Like Howdy Doody

Richard Wershe, Jr. was such an unusual informant the FBI didn’t have any rules for dealing with someone like him. That’s because he was 14 years old and looked like the lead character in a popular children’s TV show. But he was soon doing things no kid ever imagined doing.

“When I walked in the restaurant and saw who I was meeting I would’ve sworn I was meeting Howdy Doody.”

That’s how retired FBI Special Agent Herman Groman describes the first time he met teen informant Richard J. Wershe, Jr., also known as White Boy Rick. For those who aren’t of the Baby Boomer generation, Howdy Doody was a highly popular puppet character on a children’s TV show in the 1950s. Nearly every Baby Boomer remembers Howdy Doody from childhood. Howdy Doody had a shock of red hair and impossible-to-miss freckles on his always-smiling face. He had a human sidekick named Buffalo Bob and various pals such as Clarabell the Clown who communicated by honking horns.

Howdy Doody

Groman remembers Rick Wershe was sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant on Detroit’s West side, along with his father, Richard Wershe, Sr. and FBI agent James Dixon, who had recruited the younger Wershe to become an FBI confidential informant against a major Detroit drug gang.

Groman was working on C-10, the local FBI office narcotics squad. Dixon worked on C-6, which handled white collar fraud and some other crimes. Dixon had met the younger Wershe through his father Richard J. Wershe, Sr. who was an on-the-books FBI informant. It was pure happenstance in a meeting with the senior Wershe that led Dixon to realize the informant’s 14-year old son could be a useful snitch, too.

Herm Groman insists he wasn’t comfortable using an informant who was 14-years old. But he didn’t make a stink about it with the FBI bosses, either. This is consistent with the FBI culture regarding informants, according to Kenneth Walton, former Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit office of the FBI in the mid-80s, now retired.

There has been considerable debate over the years about the use of underage informants among retired FBI agents who were on the job in Detroit at the time that Rick Wershe, Jr. was working secretly as an FBI snitch. Some think it was flat-out illegal. Others believe it was against FBI or Justice Department policy. Still others think the use of a juvenile informant had to have management approval.

According to Walton, they’re all wrong. If anyone knows what the “policy” was in the 1980s regarding the use of juvenile informants, it’s Walton. He was a legend in the FBI for many things, including his near-encyclopedic knowledge of “the rules.”

Walton notes FBI agent investigative work was governed by two volumes; the Manual of Rules and Regulations and the Manual of Instructions.

“I’m absolutely certain you won’t find a paragraph in there about juvenile informants,” Walton told me. “I can’t recall that it was ever addressed.”

Inside the FBI the local boss, the Special Agent in Charge is referred to by the first initials of the job description; the Special Agent in Charge is the SAC. It is not pronounced “sack.” Each first letter is pronounced. S-A-C.

Would a street agent looking to use a juvenile informant consult with his local SAC? Not likely, according to Walton. “No SAC would stick his neck out like that,” Walton said. He went on:

“The only one who would know is the agent handling him, and if the handling agent kept his mouth shut, that would be the end of it. That agent probably wouldn’t tell a soul.”

Thus, the use of 14-year old Richard Wershe, Jr. as a confidential FBI informant didn’t violate any Bureau rules because there weren’t any rules for such a crazy thing.

Rick Wershe’s undercover informant work extended beyond his interaction with FBI agents. Detroit police officers were assigned to the federal drug task force and they had Rick Wershe make numerous drug buys within the Curry drug organization. 

As retired agent Groman notes, even though it was a task force, individual agencies within the task force had different goals. The FBI wanted to make big conspiracy cases that would bring down the entire organization. The Detroit Police, meanwhile, had a mandate to fight crime in the streets, so they had more of a buy/bust mentality; make an undercover buy, then kick in the doors, make arrests and confiscate whatever money and dope they found.

Rick Wershe remembers Detroit Police Officer Billy Jasper, a federal task force member, had him make numerous drug buys. “Billy was burning up my pager for a while,” Wershe recalls.

He remembers something else. Rick Wershe states one reason his late father went along with the cops using his teenaged son as an undercover snitch is that his father wanted the feds to help him handle the drug-abuse problems bedeviling Dawn Wershe, Rick’s sister. According to Rick Wershe, his father figured the task force guys would help him with Dawn Wershe if his son, Richard Wershe, Jr., was helping them. It didn’t work out that way.

Even so, Rick Wershe kept snitching on the Currys. Young Wershe found it easy to hang out with the Curry Brothers drug gang. They knew him as a kid from the neighborhood. To them he was just Ricky. They didn’t know about his secret double-life as a snitch for the FBI. If they did they probably would have killed him.

It wasn’t long before Richard Wershe Jr. was running with the Currys and getting deeper into their drug trafficking conspiracy. His FBI handlers got him a falsified Michigan ID which said he was 21. It looked authentic enough that he was able to rent cars and buy plane tickets, among other things.

Soon he was traveling to Miami to pick up loads of cocaine for the Currys. For the Currys, Ricky was a valuable member of the gang. No one would suspect that a freckle-faced white teenager might be a cocaine courier, a drug mule.

Wershe started going to Detroit night spots as part of the Curry entourage. He got some strange looks, but hey, if he was with Johnny Curry, well…

Rick Wershe freely admits he enjoyed the fast-lane life of the drug dealers. “I was blinded by the life,” Wershe says. He was out every night. He dropped out of school. His handlers on the federal drug task force encouraged him to go as deep as he could inside the Curry organization. That wasn’t hard. He had a knack for it.

Here was a white kid from Detroit’s east side, hobnobbing with gangsters from the black underworld. There were hot cars, hot women and the hottest street fashions. Young Rick Wershe enjoyed it all.

One entry in the FBI file on payments to Rick Wershe notes In early 1985  he was invited to join the Currys for an excursion to Las Vegas to watch the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns prize fight. Hearns was from Detroit so it was natural that a lot of “players” from Detroit attended the fight at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The file notation gets the date of the fight wrong (the fight was in April 15, 1985, not March) but it explains clearly why it was important to give Rick Wershe the money to attend the event:

FBI file entry about paying for Rick Wershe's trip to the Hearns-Hagler fight in Las Vegas in 1985.

The FBI file entry about fronting Rick the money to attend the Hearns-Hagler match had the initials “AJF” which stood for Special Agent Al Finch. When I contacted Finch, now retired, he refused to comment on any aspect of Rick Wershe’s role as an FBI informant. He made it clear he thought it was wrong to talk about FBI informants, even after all these years.

Retired Special Agent Herm Groman, however, says he and Finch were co-case agents on the Curry case and while Finch was initially involved, he seemed to Groman to have distaste for cases being handled under the task force concept. Finch was hardly alone among FBI agents in distrusting the big tent, multiple-agency approach to investigations. Groman was fine with the task force concept, so he took over the Curry case. Groman says he didn’t actively work Rick Wershe as an informant but the teenager would call him from time to time with information. Groman says he was focused on moving the case to the wiretap stage.

Wershe says he had never been to Las Vegas. Attending the Hearns-Hagler fight was huge for the role he was playing. "Being seen out there gave me a lot of street cred," Wershe told me. "Everyone assumed this kid is making (drug) money." 

Wershe was now sitting in on important Curry gang discussions of “business.” One such discussion occurred a few weeks after the Hearns-Hagler fight. It involved a murder. What Rick Wershe heard and what he reported to Special Agent Groman has played a key role in Wershe’s continued imprisonment to this day. That will be explained in the next post.