One of the first big cases of the Detroit Federal Drug Task Force of the 1980s was the prosecution of the Johnny Curry drug gang. They took the unheard-of step of secretly enlisting the help of a 14-year old kid to spy on the drug crew. When the feds made their case, they dumped the kid—Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—and left him to fend for himself. He was about to get a lesson in the politics of drug crime and big city law enforcement.
By late winter/early spring of 1986 the relationship between Richard Wershe, Jr.—a paid teen confidential informant—and members of the Detroit Federal Narcotics Task Force was almost as cloudy and chilly as the weather outside. Like so many things in the White Boy Rick saga, memories and opinions don’t match about the reason for the waning interaction between the narcs and their kid informant.
Richard Wershe, Jr. had been recruited by FBI agents at age 14 to inform on the Johnny Curry drug organization. The agents enlisted his help because he was known and trusted by the Curry brothers; Johnny, Leo and Rudell.
Rick Wershe had grown up in a “changing neighborhood.” That’s a code term used by politicians, social workers and do-gooders of various kinds to say blacks had moved in to a white neighborhood.
Rick adapted to his surroundings. The kid picked up black slang and he sounded black when he spoke. This was the early 80s, before hip-hop and rap. If Rick Wershe were a teen today his white peers might call him a wigger—a pejorative, insulting term for a white person who has adopted the inner city black lingo, cultural values and lifestyle.
Thus, it’s not surprising that Rick Wershe was accepted as a “kid from the hood” by the likes of the Curry brothers.
Wershe’s role as a white informant for the FBI against a black, politically-connected drug gang is central to his continued imprisonment long after the Currys and various Detroit drug gangsters have been tried, convicted, sentenced and paroled.
It is reasonable to suspect FBI agents and Detroit cops from the federal task force refused to help him when he was facing a major state/local drug case because to do so the image-conscious federal agency would have had to admit they literally lured a juvenile in to a life of crime to help them make a big case. When their teen informant got in trouble, their response was to let him twist in the wind rather than stand up and say ‘he was helping us.’ It would be years before they tried to help Rick Wershe get out of prison.
They had their big case. What happened to the impressionable and vulnerable teen they had led in to the criminal underworld after that was his problem. They had new cases to crack.
Guys on the task force will tell you Rick Wershe provided some key help early-on in the Curry investigation but his usefulness diminished once the feds got court-authorized wiretaps and began recording Johnny Curry’s phone calls.
Today Rick Wershe believes someone “high-up” got wind of the use of a teenager as an undercover informant, and ordered a stop to it in 1986.
Either way, Rick Wershe was suddenly an undercover used-to-be.
Young Rick Wershe had dropped out of school to live his role as a secret federal informant. When his handlers quit talking to him, Rick Wershe didn’t know what to do. His dysfunctional family wasn’t in a position to help him try to become a normal teen. He decided to continue in the only life he had known in his teen years. He decided to get in the illegal drug trade.
Not only was Wershe flirting with becoming a drug dealer, he was stepping in to the political minefield of FBI pursuit of big city police corruption. The Detroit teenager had no idea what he was getting in to.
Black politicians have long accused the mostly-white FBI of targeting blacks who rise to positions of power—in politics and in crime, which are often intertwined.
In this case the white-controlled FBI was targeting a black drug gang with a leader—Johnny Curry—who was married to the niece of Coleman Young—Detroit’s then-mayor who was one of the most politically powerful blacks in America in that era. In the minds of more than a few Detroit blacks, the Curry investigation was part of a relentless FBI campaign to get Coleman Young, one way or another. In this case, it was through his niece’s drug-dealing husband.
What’s more, the FBI was using a white kid to help them bring down the Currys and perhaps get closer to nailing Coleman Young. No one should be surprised by Rick Wershe’s long-standing belief that politically powerful blacks in Detroit have exerted pressure on the Michigan Parole Board to punish him—for life—for helping the detested FBI.
The Parole Board knows full well that Rick Wershe had helped law enforcement bring down some big criminals. It’s in the official record of Wershe’s ill-fated 2003 parole hearing. The fact the Parole Board has released numerous inmates who did far worse than Rick Wershe ever did—admitted professional killers, for example—lends credence to the idea that Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is a political prisoner.
The Michigan Parole board has some explaining to do but they won’t. No one holds them accountable. They do what they please with no oversight, no responsibility to do justice.
If, for example, and this is a purely theoretical example of course, a member of the Michigan Parole Board harangues the other members with outright lies about a certain inmate and argues that inmate must never be released, there is no mechanism in the law or administrative procedures to challenge such a vendetta-monger. The Michigan Parole Board is under no obligation to check facts and make decisions based on the truth. The case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is a tragic example of that.