A blog about the shadowy world of law enforcement informants with particular focus on the story of Michigan prison inmate "White Boy Rick" Richard Wershe, Jr. His amazing story compels us to look at many aspects of this underworld of the criminal underworld.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.