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.
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