Sunday, August 9, 2015

Rick Wershe and the DEA's Informant Problem

 A recent scathing audit severely criticizes the DEA for its sloppy management and oversight of confidential informants. At Rick Wershe’s 2003 parole hearing a DEA agent, attempting to convince the Michigan Parole Board that Rick Wershe was a major drug lord, submitted the debriefing of a DEA confidential informant who proved to be such a crack cocaine-addicted liar that the federal government had prosecuted and convicted him for perjury 12 years earlier; a fact the agent had to know. It was his informant.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General—the watchdog of the department—last month released the results of an audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) handling of confidential informants in drug prosecutions and it ain’t pretty.

Amid the newspaper headlines about the audit there was this from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“Out of Control: The DEA Overpays Informants Without Oversight.”

And this in the Washington Times:

“DEA's criminal informants run wild under poor management: report”

Read on and you’ll see why the DEA’s long-running problem with informants has a direct relationship to the imprisonment plight of Richard Wershe, Jr.—aka—White Boy Rick.

First, let’s take a look at the findings of the Justice Department audit of the DEA informant program. The audit tells us in the criminal world, if you’re lucky enough to become a long-term DEA informant, you’ll be cruising on what a 1985 Aretha Franklin hit song termed Better-Than-Ever-Street. Examples:

*The DEA has poor management and oversight of crimes committed by on-the-books criminal informants. Informants who help the DEA make big cases that make the agents, the agency and prosecutors look good can count on their handler-agents looking the other way on a wide range of crimes they may commit, including drug dealing.

*DEA managers often devote seconds—that’s right—seconds to reviewing the suitability of informants to continue working for the agency. The audit covered the years 2003 to 2012. The auditors found in 2006 DEA managers and supervisors who sit on a long-term informant committee met for all of 15 minutes and reviewed 67 informants. The average time devoted to reviewing the suitability of each long-term informant: 13 seconds.

*Relationships between DEA agent-handlers and their snitches are ripe for trouble. Management reviews of these agent-informant relationships are often only cursory. The auditors tell us: “The DEA has no rating system to assess the quality of the information provided or services rendered by confidential sources. Instead, it relies on an agent’s knowledge and skill to assess whether a confidential source is effective."

*The DEA even uses your tax money to pay long-term disability benefits to certain informants. Auditors found the DEA paid out over $1 million in informant disability payments in a single year. The family of one informant who was killed in 1989 has received over $1.3 million in monthly installments. In 1997 the DEA filed for disability benefits for an informant who was shot one day after he was recruited. There’s just one little problem; the shooting had nothing to do with DEA informant work.

*Perhaps most troubling of all, there are reports the DEA resisted cooperating with the audit, something the agency disputes. If there was resistance to the audit maybe it’s because a similar audit in 2005 found similar mismanagement of informants by the DEA. It’s been going on a long time.

The DEA’s sloppy handling of informants and the information they provide can be seen in Rick Wershe’s 2003 parole hearing.

Wershe’s appearance before the Michigan Parole Board featured an opposed-to-parole presentation by the Wayne County prosecutor’s office that was long on histrionics (which means exaggerated, emotional and dramatic behavior) but short on substance when it came to evidence that Rick Wershe Jr. was a drug kingpin, a menace to society who needs to spend his life in prison. Several ranking Detroit cops who never had any contact with White Boy Rick were ordered to go to the hearing and testify in opposition to the release of Wershe. They tap danced and testified about how bad crime is. Well, yeah. Hard to argue with that. But they didn’t have any information about Rick Wershe, the guy who was up for parole. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero.

The task of making Richard J. Wershe, Jr. appear to be a drug lord or kingpin fell to another witness, DEA Special Agent Richard Crock, now-retired, a member of the so-called No Crack Crew of cops and federal agents who kicked in a lot of doors in Detroit around the time Rick Wershe was trying to get started as a wholesale dope dealer.

Crock testified under oath and submitted several documents to the Parole Board supposedly in support of the contention that Rick Wershe was a drug lord in Detroit who was supplying some of Detroit’s notorious gangsters with cocaine.

Crock’s very first exhibit for the Michigan Parole Board, marked “#1”, was a DEA-6, the name for the agency bureaucratic form for investigative reports. It featured the debriefing of a confidential informant against the infamous Chambers Brothers drug ring by Crock and another DEA agent named Tom McClain. The informant’s name had been blocked out with a felt-tip marker.
DEA Exhibit # 1 at Wershe's 2003 parole hearing

The Chambers Brothers had migrated to Detroit from the dirt-poor town of Marianna, Arkansas. It was a criminal rags-to-riches story. The DEA-6 submitted to the Parole Board by Agent Crock at Rick Wershe’s 2003 hearing says the informant against the Chambers Brothers had moved to Detroit from the Marianna, Arkansas area in 1983 and began to sell marijuana for Billy Joe Chambers out of a convenience store called “BJ’s Party Store.”

Even though the informant’s name was blacked out on the DEA-6 that was given to the Parole Board, his identity can be deduced from other evidence. 

In a book called Land of Opportunity about the rise and fall of the Chambers Brothers Drug Empire, author William Adler wrote: “Nobody provided the police with more information than Terry Colbert, the young man who had worked for Billy years earlier at BJ’s Party Store.” The DEA-6 noted the confidential informant had moved to Detroit from Arkansas in 1983. Adler’s book said Terry Colbert had migrated from Arkansas to Detroit in 1983. The DEA-6 and Adler's book say the informant, identified by Adler as Terry Colbert, worked for Billy Joe Chambers at a Detroit convenience store.

In this six-page DEA debriefing Colbert describes the scope of the Chambers Brothers drug operation which was truly impressive—the biggest Detroit had ever seen. But he only mentions Rick Wershe one time and it had nothing to do with drugs. Colbert said an operative of the Chambers Brothers organization bought some guns from Rick Wershe, presumably meaning Rick Wershe, Jr. But maybe not. His father was Richard or “Rick” Wershe, Sr.

DEA informant report says Wershe sold guns, not drugs. But which Wershe? Jr. or Sr.?

This is a good place to note Richard J, Wershe, Jr.’s late father, Richard J. Wershe, Sr., was a gun dealer. He also was known to some as Rick Wershe. Whether Rick Wershe, Jr. or Sr. sold the guns to the Chambers Brothers is never spelled out in the DEA-6 report. The name “Rick Wershe” is just there, with no clarification, no description of whether it was Jr. or Sr. or evidence of any further investigation of what Colbert said. The DEA-6 was typed up three days after the informant debriefing; plenty of time for the DEA to make inquiries with the FBI or BATF—the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

That’s it; one mention of Rick Wershe selling guns, not dope, to the Chambers Brothers and no due diligence explanation of whether “Rick Wershe” was Richard J. Wershe Junior or Senior.

This DEA-6 was offered to the Michigan Parole Board as Exhibit # 1, as part of the “proof” Richard Wershe, Jr. was a drug dealing menace to society who should remain locked up.

It gets better—or worse depending on how you look at it.

Terry Colbert was one of the key secret witnesses testifying before a federal grand jury investigating the Chambers Brothers drug ring.  When they went to trial Terry Colbert was one of the star witnesses for the prosecution. It was a lie-filled disaster.

The problem was Terry Colbert used crack—big time. In Land of Opportunity William Adler devotes considerable space to profiling Terry Colbert, the confidential informant quoted in Exhibit # 1 against Rick Wershe.

He changed from an easygoing if unreliable young man to—as many who knew him put it—a ‘fiend,’” Adler wrote. Colbert had become addicted—badly—to smoking crack cocaine. Adler quotes Billy Joe Chambers as saying (Colbert) “started smoking his lights out.” Billy Joe Chambers couldn’t trust Colbert to be around crack cocaine to sell it so Colbert’s source of income to buy crack dried up. He decided to get even with his old pal, Billy Joe Chambers. “F**k it, I’ll fix him,” Colbert told Adler. Terry Colbert decided to become a police informant against the Chambers Brothers.

Adler writes that Terry Colbert walked in to the Detroit Police 5th Precinct one day and volunteered to become an informant. He met with a narc named Mick Biernacki, a member of the No Crack Crew. As noted previously, this was a team of DEA and Detroit Police officers working to build a case against the Chambers Brothers. Biernacki, the Detroit Police narc, worked closely with Richard Crock, the DEA agent. The No Crack Crew shared Colbert as an informant. 

Even though Colbert was too addled by crack to sell it, even though dope dealers didn't trust him, this didn’t bother the DEA and Detroit Police who used him as a major informant.

“I was smoking so much (crack) that whatever bullshit the cops asked me, I said yes this, no that. Whatever they wanted,” Colbert told author Adler.

Court records show that in exchange for his confidential informant work the DEA negotiated immunity from prosecution for Colbert and paid him over $16,000 for “expenses” over a two year period. Court documents also show the DEA and Detroit Police team known as the “No Crack Crew” relied on Colbert the crack addict as the confidential source who provided “probable cause” for at least 75% of the 101 search warrants (raids) executed in the Chambers Brothers drug conspiracy investigation.

When it came time to testify, Terry Colbert proved to be such an unreliable liar that he was later indicted by a federal grand jury and convicted in 1991 on eight counts of perjury. He was given a sentence of 135 months (over 11 years), the maximum under federal law. Fortunately for the government, other witnesses and evidence led to convictions in the Chambers Brothers case.

Yet, in 2003 DEA Special Agent Richard Crock chose to make the 1987 debriefing of this convicted liar Exhibit # 1 for the Michigan Parole Board in their consideration of whether to release Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

Crock had to know Terry Colbert had gone to prison for lying under oath before a federal grand jury and on the witness stand in the Chambers Brothers court trial. Crock had shared Colbert as an informant for the No Crack Crew so he was Crock’s informant! Yet, Agent Crock submitted to the Parole Board the Terry Colbert debriefing where he mentions Rick Wershe one time for selling guns, not drugs to the Chambers Brothers organization.

No one has challenged the use of information from a convicted liar to make a decision about parole for Rick Wershe and no one has questioned DEA Agent Richard Crock’s clearly misleading presentation under oath.

White Boy Rick is still in prison to this day and according to the Justice Department Inspector General the DEA still has serious problems managing confidential informants and the agents who handle them.

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