Sunday, June 7, 2015

White Boy Rick - He Knew Less Than People Think

Richard Wershe, Jr. was an important FBI Confidential Informant in the investigation of a major Detroit drug organization, but it’s easy to overstate his role.  His "White Boy Rick" reputation had more to do with his age at the time—14—and his race—the only white guy in a black drug crew—than his exploits in the drug underworld. To this day many people believe he knew far more than he did. Here’s what Rick knew and didn’t know about an important murder investigation.

Untold numbers of numbers of people around the world are aware Detroit, Michigan was once known as the Motor City for the countless automobiles built there, but in the post-1967 riot years it became known as the Murder City. Year after year, starting in the 1970s, Detroit had more violent deaths than Belfast, Ireland, Beirut, Lebanon or most of the world’s other danger zones of that era.

Of the hundreds of murders in Detroit over the years, one stands out as having significant impact on city politics. It is the April 29, 1985 drive-by shooting murder of 13-year old Damion Lucas. It can be argued that the Damion Lucas murder is a key reason Richard J. Wershe, Jr. remains in prison serving a life prison term, even though he had nothing to do with it and, in fact, tried to help the FBI get justice for the dead boy. Some in Detroit's criminal "justice" system apparently believe this was the start of Wershe's long-running informant role on police corruption. And some, apparently, have done all they can to keep Wershe behind bars as punishment for telling on crooked cops.

It must be noted that Rick Wershe tried to help by passing along to an FBI agent what he heard in a meeting of the Curry drug gang shortly after the boy was killed by mistake by members of the organization. But Wershe didn’t know any more than what he overheard in a conversation. At the time Wershe was a secret paid informant for the FBI regarding the Curry organization. He had been recruited by the FBI because he had good access to Johnny Curry, the leader of the group.

As Wershe told me recently in a phone call from prison, he wasn’t in a position to ask questions about the Damion Lucas murder. That would have been a red flag to the whole group. 

The truth is, Rick Wershe’s knowledge of the Damion Lucas homicide was important but minimal, at best. Many people in the Detroit criminal justice system think he knows more than he does, and that has been a significant problem for him in his efforts to get a parole. Some apparently fear he knows a lot he hasn’t told. Wershe himself will be the first to tell you people think he knows more about Detroit drug dealing and police corruption than he actually knows.

The FBI had more than a tip from Rick Wershe about the Damion Lucas homicide. They had a wiretap conversation of Johnny Curry telling a friend that Wyman Jenkins, one of his top lieutenants, caused a lot of trouble by shooting up the home where the little boy was watching television with his younger brother. A bullet from an automatic weapon tore through the wall and killed Damion Lucas: “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 evidence shows the Detroit Police went to great lengths to avoid prosecuting anyone in the Curry organization. The apparent reason is the Curry gang was politically connected. 

The police spent considerable time trying to build a false case against an innocent man just to keep the spotlight away from the Curry Brothers drug organization.

The trail of the thwarted investigation of the Damion Lucas homicide led the FBI to Inspector Gilbert Hill, then head of the Detroit Police Homicide section. Just prior to the start of the wiretap on Johnny Curry’s phone the FBI had been mechanically recording a log of all calls to and from Curry’s phone, showing the date, time and length of each call. The data was captured by a device known as a pen register.

The morning after Damion Lucas was murdered, the pen register log showed a brief call from Johnny Curry’s home phone to the unlisted home phone of Detroit Police Sgt. James Harris, a member of then-Mayor Coleman Young’s security detail. Harris was responsible for looking out for the mayor’s relatives and that included Cathy Volsan, the mayor’s favorite niece, who was the fiancĂ© of Johnny Curry.

The Curry call to Harris was followed by a much longer phone call to a private, unlisted telephone at Detroit Police Headquarters. The phone was on the desk of Homicide Inspector Gil Hill.

What did Curry and Hill talk about? As luck would have it, the FBI didn’t get court authorization to begin a full wiretap until a few days later.

But Rick Wershe recalls riding around with Johnny Curry a few days after the murder when Johnny received a call on his car phone—an unusual luxury accessory in 1985. Wershe told me he could clearly hear both sides of the conversation. The caller, Wershe says, was Detroit Police Inspector Gil Hill. Wershe says he remembers hearing Hill tell Curry not to worry, because “I’ve got you covered,” or words to that effect.

This and other facts and recollections in previous posts on Informant America might create the impression that Richard Wershe, Jr. was a key player in the Curry drug organization. That’s not true. He was a key hanger-on

For whatever reason, Johnny Curry liked having this teenaged white kid who was street-savvy and who spoke fluent ghetto Swahili hanging around. Curry would take him to nightclubs favored by Detroit’s black gangsters, where Rick was an obvious oddity—a fish out of water. But Wershe wasn’t an actual insider. Johnny Curry was much too cautious for that.

What made Wershe unique in the Curry investigation was his age. He began his role as an FBI confidential informant at age 14 simply because he knew and was trusted by the Currys.

Retired FBI agent Herman Groman, who was one of the investigators who worked with Wershe during the Curry investigation, says Wershe provided key information at certain points, such as the tip about the Damion Lucas murder, but in reality most of the federal case against the Curry organization was gleaned from court-authorized wiretaps.

It is worth noting that Richard Wershe, Jr. was never cited in the Curry Brothers federal grand jury indictment and he wasn't named as a witness. His role as an FBI informant didn't surface until several years later.

Wershe wasn’t the only one who told the FBI what happened the night Damion Lucas was murdered. Kevin Colbert, also known as "Weasel", a member of the Curry gang and one of those indicted, told the story of the Damion Lucas murder to FBI special agent Gregg Schwarz several years later. In other words, Richard Wershe, Jr. isn’t the only source about the case. Colbert’s story will be detailed in the next blog post. 

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