Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rick Wershe and the Scales of Justice

 Arthur Dale Derrick is an important figure in the saga of White Boy Rick—Richard, Wershe Jr. As Rick himself has said, “Art was a big piece of the story.” Derrick, a “weight man” or wholesaler, helped Rick get started in his doomed effort to become a big-time drug dealer. Derrick came up with the name White Boy Rick as was explained in last week’s blog post. Derrick was the kind of drug dealer Rick Wershe, Jr. dreamed of becoming. Yet in the end, he got off easy compared to his young customer. Here’s the story.

You have seen them countless times but have you ever given any thought to the various sculptures known as Lady Justice? She’s the woman in an ancient robe with a set of scales in one hand and frequently a sword in the other. Sometimes she’s wearing a blindfold, sometimes not. The one constant is the set of scales. They represent the very foundation of justice—the all-important quest to weigh evidence and testimony to determine what is true and what isn’t.

Lady Justice

The scales held by Lady Justice also signify balance, a weighing of interests. Law ‘n’ order advocates like to say ‘let the punishment fit the crime.’ Well, okay. Let’s go with that. If we honestly apply that standard, Rick Wershe should be released from prison immediately. He has more than done his time, especially when compared to others in the criminal justice system that have done far worse and served far less time.

In the law there is a concept called proportionality. Essentially it means let the punishment fit the crime. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Michigan’s mandatory life law for non-violent but significant drug dealing failed the proportionality test. Inmates convicted under that law were paroled, except for one: Richard Wershe Jr. Someone needs to be held accountable—now—today—for the severity of the continuing punishment of Richard Wershe, Jr. as compared with others convicted under the narcotics laws.

Last week, Informant America explained that Richard Wershe, Jr. was given the nickname White Boy Rick by the late Arthur Dale Derrick, a true drug kingpin. Derrick succumbed to the lure of prescription pills and cocaine and died of poor health in 2005.

Art Derrick (Obituary photo)

Art Derrick was a white suburbanite with cocaine connections in Miami and a small fleet of aircraft to transport kilos of coke. In the 1980s, Art Derrick was probably the biggest “weight man”—cocaine wholesaler—in the Detroit market. His clients included Detroit’s biggest inner city dope dealers of that era.

The previous Informant America post quoted from a sworn statement by Derrick about how he and his partner decided to call Richard Wershe, Jr. “White Boy” or “White Boy Rick” to differentiate him from another customer also named Rick. The other Rick was black and drove a Maserati. Derrick and his partner referred to him as Maserati Rick.

Who was Derrick’s partner? His name was Sam Curry. Samuel Mack Curry. He was an older black man who was the father of the infamous Curry Brothers—the gang Rick Wershe spied on and informed on for the FBI beginning at age 14. Apparently the Curry Brothers learned the illegal drug trade at their father’s knee. And Rick Wershe met Art Derrick when he was running with the Curry Brothers and partying with Detroit’s A-List of dope dealers.

The Art Derrick/Sam Curry partnership was a good one while it lasted. Art Derrick had the Colombian supply line connections. Sam Curry knew all the black players in the Detroit drug trade. Art Derrick could import it and Sam Curry could move it. Their customers included Detroit drug gangsta legends like the aforementioned Maserati Rick, the Curry Brothers, Demetrius Holloway and the legendary—in criminal circles—Chambers Brothers. By some estimates Art Derrick was raking in $100 thousand a day.

“Art was pumpin’,” Rick Wershe told an interviewer in a phone interview from prison several years ago. “(In the 1980s) He was movin’ more weight than anybody.” Wershe admired and envied Derrick’s “toys,” which included a private jet Rick once described as parked in the ghetto. He meant the plane was sometimes at Detroit City Airport, about half a mile from where Rick grew up. Wershe was in awe. “(We would) jump on the jet; go to Vegas, go to Miami.”  

Among Art Derrick’s best customers were the Chambers Brothers. They were a dirt-poor family from the rural dirt roads of Marianna, Arkansas. They moved to Detroit and hit it big-time in the dope trade, raking in an estimated $55 million a year slinging dope. Billy Joe Chambers—BJ—and his brother Larry, the leaders of the Chambers Brothers organization, were so naturally and instinctively good at sales and marketing they probably could have been major successes in legitimate business if their lives had gone down that road.

Author William M. Adler interviewed Art Derrick for Land of Opportunity, a well-researched and critically-acclaimed1995 book about the Chambers Brothers.

Adler described Derrick as portly—bloated with a pock-marked face, droopy moustache and graying pompadour—“he looked like the guy on the next stool at the shot-and-beer joint.”

In his interview with Adler and in other statements, Derrick described how he was working long hours in a store he owned and how he began messing with prescription drugs. “I was using a lot of pills,” Derrick told Adler. Court documents support this.

Through a routine diversion unit audit of a pharmacy, the DEA became aware of Art’s connection to illegal prescription drugs. The investigation showed a lot of pill prescriptions by an osteopath named Richard Tapert. The doctor was indicted by a federal grand jury and convicted. Court documents indicate a cocaine-for-pills arrangement between Tapert and Derrick.

During the mid-80s Art Derrick was helping the Chambers Brothers become “kingpins” and “drug lords”—the kind of terms the police and media used to describe Richard Wershe, Jr. or White Boy Rick. Because Rick Wershe knew and hung around with this crowd, he was painted or tarred with the same brush. It wasn’t true but no one noticed or cared.

The Chambers Brothers, however, were the real deal. In his conversation with author Adler Derrick remarked about the rise of the Chambers Brothers.

“They (BJ and crew) had a big engine, but an engine doesn’t work without fuel.” Derrick went on: “I’m the guy who fueled ‘em.”

Derrick described it to Adler as a team effort and lauded Billy Joe Chambers’ skills at selling cocaine. “The guy could move dope like no one I ever saw,” Derrick said admiringly.

Art Derrick was eventually busted by the DEA and charged with CCE—operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. This federal law is known as the “kingpin statute.” It is the crime law the Justice Department uses to prosecute true “kingpins” and “drug lords.” They never charged Richard Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. In fact, the federal government never charged Rick Wershe at all.

Derrick was convicted and served six years of a 10-year sentence for being a “drug kingpin.” Richard Wershe, Jr., who was once briefly an Art Derrick customer, who tried but failed to become a “kingpin”, has been in prison for 27 years—and counting.

So much for the scales of Lady Justice.


Correction: There were TWO Sam Currys, both black, both older, both involved in the dope trade on Detroit's East Side in the same time period. For a detailed explanation please see the next blog post, A Tale of Two Sams and a Court Ruling.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

How Richard Wershe, Jr. became White Boy Rick

This weekend Richard Wershe, Jr. observed another birthday in prison as part of a life sentence for non-violent drug dealing. One reason he may remain behind bars is his outsized reputation as a dope dealer, aided in no small part by his nickname White Boy Rick. This is the story of that nickname.

Rick Wershe turned 46 yesterday. He spent his birthday as he has every birthday since 1988—behind bars, serving a life sentence the politicians and judges are reluctant to reduce. After all this is White Boy Rick. With a street hood nickname like that he must have done something bad.

Well, yes and no. Yes, he tried—but failed—to become a big-time dope dealer. But he was never involved in the deadly violence we associate with cocaine trafficking. What he did was help the FBI and Detroit Police, beginning at age 14, bring down a major drug gang, and later, he helped the FBI prosecute a dozen or so crooked cops. THAT is the likely reason he remains in prison long after the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the mandatory-life drug law he was convicted under as unconstitutional. He informed on dirty cops with political connections.

But! But! He was WHITE BOY RICK! How did he get that nickname that the Detroit media loved to use over and over when he was arrested and prosecuted? Isn’t that what he was called by the drug dealers he consorted with and informed on? Doesn't that prove he was a major badass? No. As reported earlier by Informant America he was known among the Curry Brothers and their co-conspirators simply as Ricky. Ricky from the ‘hood.

There has been a lot of speculation about the White Boy Rick nickname and where it came from, most of it wrong. This post is about how Richard J. Wershe, Jr. came to be known as White Boy Rick.

A now-deceased major dope dealer named Arthur Dale “Art” Derrick claimed under oath in 2003 that he and his business partner came up with the name White Boy Rick for Richard Wershe, Jr. for a very pragmatic reason, which we will get to in a moment. First, here’s some background about this guy.

In the mid to late 80s, Art Derrick was one of the biggest Detroit dope dealers you never heard of. Derrick was white. He lived in luxury in a walled residential compound in what he described as the most expensive home in Harper Woods, one of Detroit’s northern suburbs.

By his own admission Derrick had lots of the “toys” typically associated with big-time drug dealers. He had a fleet of Corvettes. He had four airplanes including a four-engine private jet.

Art Derrick was a high level cocaine wholesaler but he was never in the headlines. He was a key source of supply for Detroit’s big-time cocaine dealers.Derrick had connections in Miami and he could fly loads of dope to Detroit on his private aircraft. He once filed a lawsuit against the City of Detroit because police narcs had seized $181,310.94 in cash from him. Derrick argued unsuccessfully that Michigan’s drug forfeiture statue didn’t allow such a seizure. Derrick says at the time he was arrested by DEA agents his net worth was about four million dollars.

When Rick Wershe set out on his ill-fated quest to become a big dope dealer, one of his mentors, according to Art Derrick, was himself. He claims he helped Rick Wershe get started. Rick agrees he did some dope business early-on with Derrick but he disputes how instrumental Art was in helping him, particularly with major connections in Miami.

Regardless, the young white kid’s name—Rick—was a problem for Derrick and his partner because they had another “Rick” as a major customer; Rick Carter, who was black. They found it confusing to talk about dope deals with “Rick.” Which Rick?

Art Derrick claims he solved the problem by referring to the black Rick as Maserati Rick, because of the car the black guy drove. Sometimes he was called “Maz” for short. Derrick and his partner referred to the white kid dope dealer wannabe from Detroit’s East side as “White Boy” or “White Boy Rick.”

Maserati Rick became the major drug dealer that White Boy Rick hoped to be but never was. Rick Carter met a violent end as so many inner city dope dealers do. But he went out in style. He was buried in a casket fashioned to look like a Mercedes Benz.

Maserati Rick Carter in repose. Detroit Free Press photo

Derrick believed the narcs picked up the White Boy Rick nickname from him when they heard him using it. The police love to call criminals by their street names. It adds some cred to their work as guardians of the street. Fawning Detroit reporters who depend on tips and leaks from the cops for their jobs were, in turn, only too happy to use the name.Their editors loved it, as well. It made for great headlines. But it conjured a persona that didn’t exist in reality. 

Today, most Detroiters couldn’t tell you who Richard Wershe, Jr. is. But many still remember the name White Boy Rick. So do judges, politicians and members of the Michigan Parole Board. The nickname has damaged Richard Wershe, Jr.'s reputation for years and it has helped keep him in prison.

Art Derrick was indicted by a federal grand jury and convicted in 1989 for operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the federal law known as the “kingpin” statute because it is used against top-tier drug traffickers. He was also charged with tax evasion. Rick Wershe, allegedly a "kingpin", was never charged under the kingpin statute. Derrick served six years of a 10-year federal sentence for being a major drug trafficker.

Derrick was also convicted in a drug case in Macomb County. He was sentenced to five-to-20 years, to be served concurrently with the federal conviction.

Art Derrick was far, far bigger in the Detroit dope scene than Rick Wershe ever was. He did six years while Rick Wershe has now been in prison 27 years. But then, Art Derrick never helped the FBI prosecute corrupt Detroit cops with political friends with the power to carry on an imprisonment vendetta.


In last week’s blog post I mistakenly used pounds for kilos in describing the case against Rick Wershe. The post said his case involved 8 pounds. It was 8 kilos, which is 17.6 pounds.

Also, a previous post said Rick Wershe acted for a time as a mule, a drug courier for the Curry Brothers drug organization while he was working undercover for the Detroit federal drug task force. Wershe says this is not true. He says he never transported drugs for the Curry Brothers.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

For Rick Wershe, Jr., Independence Day isn't

Did you enjoy your 4th of July holiday weekend? Did you have fun? Did you attend a picnic? Did you kick back with a barbecue and some cold beer with family and friends? Did you go to the beach or the lake for a little R&R? When the sun went down did you put a blanket on the lawn of the local park and watch the fireworks display?

Rick Wershe didn’t do any of that. He couldn’t. For him, Independence Day was just another day of his life prison sentence for dealing drugs. Over the years he’s helped the FBI send drug dealers to jail, he’s helped thwart a Mafia murder plot and he helped put a dozen corrupt cops in prison, but somehow that doesn’t count in Michigan’s politicized parole system. Wershe informed on politically-connected people, so he’s been in prison far longer than major drug dealers and hitmen. There is a vendetta against him, plain and simple.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - MDOC Photo

For Rick Wershe, Fourth of July recreation was limited time in “the yard” with other inmates at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan. For Inmate 192034 the Fourth of July was just another day in prison—he’s been behind bars his entire adult life.

Since March this blog has been exploring the legend of “White Boy Rick”, the media’s favorite alias for Richard J. Wershe, Jr. This week’s post will take a “holiday” view of his tragic case.

First, let’s review yet again.

At age 14, Rick Wershe was recruited by the Detroit FBI to spy on the Johnny Curry drug gang on the city’s east side. Rick’s late always-on-the-edge father was a paid FBI informant. Through Richard J. Wershe Sr. the FBI found out Richard J. Wershe Jr. was known and trusted by the Curry brothers and their henchmen because he was just Ricky, a white kid from the racially mixed ‘hood.

The FBI wanted to bring down the Curry organization because Johnny Curry was married to Cathy Volsan, the favorite niece of then-mayor Coleman Young, a perennial FBI target of investigation. The hope was that if he was facing long prison time, Johnny Curry might rat out the mayor about…something.

So a federal drug task force of agents from the FBI, DEA and a small detail of Detroit police officers taught young Rick Wershe the ways of dope dealing. Yep. Law enforcement taught him how to be a drug dealer. The Detroit cops, always in a buy-bust mind frame, had Rick Wershe Jr. make numerous drug buys with law enforcement money. While there wasn’t any FBI rule or regulation back then about using juveniles as informants in criminal cases, the agents knew it was a highly questionable thing to do, so they put informant information from Richard Wershe Jr. in the informant file for Richard Wershe Sr. They had the same names except for senior and junior, a very convenient cover for info from a kid they were paying to be a mole in a drug gang.

Ricky, as he was known to the Currys, proved valuable in the early stages of the Curry drug case. He provided good information. His most important tip was that he was at a meeting in which the Curry gang discussed how to finesse their role in the accidental murder of a 13-year old boy. The Curry group shot up a house to intimidate the owner over money he owed them. The man’s nephews were in the house at the time and one of them caught a bullet in his chest and died.

The Currys feared homicide investigators would question them. There was nothing to fear. Someone high up in the Detroit Police Department pushed the investigation away from the Currys and toward an innocent man. Sending an innocent man to prison for murder was less important to the police department than protecting the mayor’s niece because her husband’s drug gang had killed a little boy.

When the FBI got authorization to use wiretaps against the Currys Rick Wershe’s info became less important. After putting Rick in the criminal underworld, they dropped him. If anyone in the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Detroit FBI, the Detroit DEA or the Detroit Police Department ever gave any thought to helping or getting counseling for the kid they lured in to a life of crime to help them make a big case, there’s no evidence of it.

Rick Wershe Jr. came from a dysfunctional family and mostly raised himself. He had nowhere to turn, no one to guide him back to the life of an average teenager. He had dropped out of school. He did the only thing he knew how to do, the life the cops had taught him to live—he tried to become a dope dealer.

He failed. Oh, sure, he managed to act as a middleman cocaine wholesaler for a while but a team of DEA agents and Detroit cops, wallowing in the media glory of being the “No Crack Crew”, teamed with the Detroit Police gang squad to bust Richard Wershe, Jr. who came to be known as White Boy Rick for his youth and the color of his skin in a mostly-black criminal underworld. 

Gullible and/or lazy Detroit reporters were only too happy to call him a “drug lord” and a “kingpin” without ever asking for the evidence to support such a reputation. No one in the media ever stopped to ask how a freckle-faced white kid who was not yet 18 could possibly be a top-echelon drug trafficker in a mostly black, mostly adult racket. But hey. It made for great headlines.

Here’s the truth based on extensive review of official paperwork: there is NO evidence, NONE, to support the claim that Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was ever a major dope dealer. Prosecutors, judges, uniformed city officials and political hacks on the Michigan Parole Board can huff and puff about Rick Wershe all they wish. There is NO evidence to support the accusations that Wershe was ever a major drug dealer. 

He’s doing life because he ratted on the wrong people—a politically-connected drug dealer and cops who were on the take from drug pushers, including one cop who was a local celebrity because he had been in a movie with Eddie Murphy. The Detroit political and criminal justice establishment has vowed to keep Rick Wershe in prison until he dies for telling the FBI the truth about some of their own.

It is commonplace for cops to go to bat for their informants because without them they wouldn’t make many cases. This includes the FBI. The criminal justice system relies on informants and “cooperating witnesses” far more than the public knows.

Intercession by law enforcement for someone who helped them didn’t happen in Rick Wershe’s case. The Feds let him twist in the wind in his local drug case. To do otherwise, to help their teen informant when he got in a jam, would be to admit they had recruited a 14-year old as a paid informant against a violent drug gang. Instead, they sat on their hands, they kept their mouths shut and they let Richard Wershe Jr. get convicted. In 1988, it was a life prison sentence under Michigan law.

The Michigan Supreme Court eventually struck down the law Wershe was convicted under as cruel and unusual punishment. Since then all of the drug dealers convicted under that law have been released from prison. All except one. Richard J. Wershe Jr.

One idiot who has fought against parole for Rick Wershe makes the claim that Wershe’s friends are all criminals. Well, duh! You dimwit! He’s been in prison he entire adult life. With few exceptions the only people he knows are other criminals. Since age 18 he’s never had the chance to mingle with anyone other than convicted criminals.

It is this kind of breathtaking stupidity that makes the Wershe case so frustrating. It’s true he’s done some dumb things, things that are against his own self-interest. But he’s paid the price for his bad decisions for years and years. They say justice delayed is justice denied. Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has been denied justice for a long, long time.

If you enjoyed your Independence Day festivities, congratulations. Rick Wershe didn’t have the chance to do that.