Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Daily Beast explores the Rick Wershe, Jr. story and a real drug kingpin talks about Wershe

Regular readers of this blog are encouraged to do some extra reading this week at The Daily Beast. The influential online news site has run a substantial piece I wrote about the apparent vendetta that has kept Richard J. Wershe in prison for all of his adult life for helping the FBI bust corrupt cops in Detroit. In addition, this week’s post focuses on what a real drug kingpin had to say about Rick Wershe.

Anyone interested in reading an overview of the Rick Wershe saga is encouraged to visit The Daily Beast and check out the story I wrote for them.

Is Cocaine Legend White Boy Rick Serving Life for Busting Crooked Cops?

Arthur Dale Derrick was the kind of dope dealer Rick Wershe, Jr. wanted to be. Derrick had a fleet of planes including a personal jet. He had a luxurious suburban home. He stayed in hotel suites and sometimes rented entire floors of a hotel. He had plenty of money. He had connections. Art Derrick was a weight man. That’s drug trade talk for a wholesaler, an importer; the guy the big dope dealers in town turn to for their supply of illegal drugs.

When the narcs on the Detroit Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) suddenly quit talking to Rick Wershe in the summer of 1986 he was a kid adrift. He had worked secretly for the task force for two years, beginning at age 14, as an informant against the Curry Brothers, an east side drug gang with political connections. The Curry organization, led by brothers Johnny and Leo Curry, known as Little Man and Big Man respectively, started in marijuana, moved in to heroin and then in to cocaine when crack swept the big cities of North America in the mid-1980s.

Johnny Curry was engaged to Cathy Volsan, the attractive niece of Coleman Young, Detroit’s powerful black mayor. As the mayor’s favorite niece, Cathy Volsan enjoyed personal police protection from the substantial mayoral security detail. The protection included copies of police reports of investigations related to the Currys.

The late Arthur "Art" Dale Derrick (Obituary photo)

Art Derrick was a “weight man”, a wholesale supplier to the Curry Brothers, who also had connects in New York. Dealing crack cocaine was a supply and demand business. Pesky narcs were a constant drag on business. Sometimes they staged raids as part of an investigation. Sometimes they staged raids to steal drugs and cash from the doper dealers so they could sell them to competitors who didn’t care where the stuff came from.

Thus, rising drug lords like Johnny and Leo Curry scored their supplies wherever they could. If the supplier was some Cuban in New York, that was fine. If the supplier was a suburban Detroit white guy named Art Derrick, that was fine, too.

Rick Wershe, Jr. aspired to be a weight man just like Art Derrick. Wershe had met Derrick during his time as a confidential informant for the FBI.

Like many things about the Rick Wershe saga, his estrangement from the federal drug task force agents has multiple versions. Retired FBI agents will tell you Rick Wershe had been key to helping them get court authorization for wiretaps and listening devices  focused on the Curry drug operation. After they got the electronic eavesdropping authorization, the federal agents say Wershe became less important.

In Rick Wershe’s view, the federal task force narcs dropped him when someone “higher up” got wind they were using a juvenile informant in a highly dangerous drug investigation. In the end, both versions may be true.

No one in this saga disputes the point the narcs dropped Rick Wershe without any counseling, without any effort to assimilate this kid from a troubled family back in to a normal teenager’s life. He was a school drop-out because he had been running the streets night after night, living the underworld fast life as a paid informant of the FBI. The only trade he knew was the trade the police taught him; the dope trade.

So it came to be that Art Derrick says he took young Rick Wershe under his wing. Wershe disputes how much credit Derrick gets for his brief run as a drug wholesaler wannabe. What follows, is Art Derrick’s version of the Rick Wershe, Jr. story from an affidavit he wrote in 2003. Derrick can’t be questioned about his assertions because he died in 2005, a victim of self-abuse of drugs.

The following quotes are from Derrick's sworn affidavit written after Rick Wershe’s one and only parole hearing. Derrick showed up at the parole hearing to testify in Wershe’s behalf, but Patrick McQueeney, Wershe’s attorney at the time, decided it might not be a good idea for a convicted and admitted drug kingpin to testify in support of Wershe.

Here's an interesting question to ponder: who better to evaluate the extent of Rick Wershe's dope dealing than another proven (convicted and imprisoned) dope dealer?

Derrick resided in St. Clair Shores at the time he gave his affidavit. He says he was convicted in federal court in 1989 of operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the so-called “kingpin” statute, plus tax evasion. He served six years of a ten year term. (Wershe, who was never convicted under the “kingpin” statute is now in the 27th year of a life term for a non-violent drug conviction handed down in state court. But Derrick didn't inform on corrupt cops. Wershe did.)

"I had previously sold cocaine to Mr. Wershe several years ago and in part felt sorry for Mr. Wershe who was arrested when he was a kid and has not been (as) fortunate as myself to be released and get a second chance," Derrick stated in his affidavit.

Derrick directly contradicts the testimony of selected law enforcement professionals who had been hand-picked to testify against Wershe at his parole hearing. My own investigation over some 18 months suggests Derrick told the truth and the cops lied. It appears they lied because they had a vendetta against Rick Wershe for helping the FBI nail drug-corrupted cops and Willie Volsan, the drug-dealing brother-in-law of Mayor Young and the father of Cathy Volsan.

Here’s how Art Derrick described Rick Wershe, Jr.:

"In 1985-1987, I was involved in large scale drug trafficking and ultimately met Mr. Wershe. Mr. Wershe was a kid when I met him and was nothing near a sophisticated narcotics trafficker. I referred to Mr. Wershe, as a "wannabe" narcotics trafficker. I was not interested in selling cocaine to a teenager, but I was persuaded to involve Mr. Wershe in drug sales by my partner. I was involved in large scale importation of cocaine and Mr. Wershe was not known in the narcotics industry as a ‘major player.’"

Separately, veteran Detroit criminal defense attorney Steve Fishman has said the same thing. Wershe’s name came up from time to time but he was never a defendant or even a witness in the biggest drug trafficking trials of that era.

Derrick says he was the one who first came up with Wershe’s infamous nickname: White Boy Rick:

"I labeled Mr. Wershe, as "White Boy'' Rick, a label that Mr. Wershe never pinned on himself. The reason behind labeling him with such a name was that my partner and I had two (2) Ricks that we were selling drugs to. The first Rick was an African-American, who drove a Maserati and the second Rick was a young white male. In the event that my partner contacted me, he would simply say the "Maz" known as Maserati Rick and Wershe as ‘White Boy’ Rick," Derrick stated.

Neither of Derrick's customers named Rick fared too well. Wershe, as we know, is serving a life prison term. Maserati Rick Carter is dead. He survived an attempted hit only to be murdered in his hospital bed as he was recovering for the botched hit.

Maserati Rick Carter, lying in repose in a coffin decorated to resemble a Mercedes Benz. (Detroit Free Press Photo)

Derrick strongly disputes the parole hearing testimony of a DEA agent who said “informants” had told him Rick Wershe was pushing 200 to 300 kilograms of cocaine in Detroit every month. There is no investigative evidence, no wiretaps, no surveillance photos to indicate that estimate is anywhere close to the truth. Derrick says there is a very tangible reason to believe Rick Wershe was not the drug lord law enforcement has made him out to be. Derrick said in his affidavit:

“The reason I suggest that Mr. Wershe was not a ‘major trafficker’ was the fact that he did not have the ‘toys or items’ that a major trafficker possessed, such as myself. At the time that I was arrested, I owned the most expensive home in the City of Harper Woods (Michigan), a number of Corvettes, four airplanes, a four engine personal jet, several hundred thousand dollars in cash and I can attest that although Mr. Wershe had some money and a couple of automobiles, he did not possess or own the level of assets I had in my possession, because he simply was not a ‘major narcotics trafficker.’"

Anyone who laughs at this argument doesn’t understand the drug kingpin lifestyle. “Toys”, clothes, luxury cars, jewelry and expensive recreation possessions are key elements for a major drug dealer, a sign that he is living large in the underworld. Rick Wershe, Jr. had very few toys, and as he has pointed out in my interviews and conversations with him, “If I was such a big drug dealer why was I still living in the same ‘hood (neighborhood)?”

It’s a question Wershe’s enemies in the Detroit criminal justice establishment have never answered.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rick Wershe wants your help - with his holiday food drive

Serving a life prison term, as Rick Wershe is doing, is hard time. But Wershe knows there are people on the outside who are going through hard times, too. For several years Rick has organized a holiday food drive for the needy. He hopes people who support him will support his food drive, which is through a well-known food-for-the-needy charity and his former church. Sadly, he worries his critics will accuse him of posturing for his own self-interest.

This is a topic Rick Wershe hopes the media doesn’t write about. It is Wershe’s holiday charity work. Many people who have heard about Rick Wershe’s ordeal have asked how they can help. Supporting his holiday food drive is one easy and immediate way to help him. More on how to get involved later.

Rick with a painting he did in prsion. It was donated for an auction for the Susan G. Komen cancer foundation.

For several years Rick Wershe has tried to organize a holiday food drive for the needy. Why wouldn’t he want credit for this in news stories? 

“I don’t want people to think I’m having you write about it so I look good,” Wershe wrote in an email to me last week. It is a sad, twisted truth that Wershe has critics who say he is only trying to help people so he will look good to the parole board. He can’t win with these people.

Wershe, and some other prison inmates like him face a dilemma as guests of the Department of Corrections. Think about the last word in the department name: Corrections. Society pays lip service to the notion of prison time as a motivation to change anti-social behavior exhibited by whatever crime the inmate has committed. Society expects inmates to change their behavior, but according to many cynics, if they do, they are just manipulating the system; they are just trying to “look good.”

Pardon me, but what do you think all those virtuous charity-givers on the outside are doing? What are church do-gooders doing? What are the wealthy with their thousand-dollars-a-ticket charity balls doing? What are untold numbers of politicians doing when they roll up their sleeves (when the media cameras are on) at some charity event?

Rick Wershe has tried in recent years, as best he can from a prison cell, to help people around the holidays. When he was in the federal Witness Security program (after he helped the FBI prosecute drug-corrupted cops) he and some other inmates gathered donations and passed them along to needy kids in Florida, where he was then incarcerated. He has continued the holiday giving drive as a prisoner in Michigan.

Wershe recalls reading a newspaper story about a woman with cancer whose kids were going to have a bleak holiday. Rick Wershe asked his late father to find the woman and take her kids shopping for some holiday treasures. He did.  

On another occasion Rick Wershe read about a family facing tough times and living in a motel in the 8 Mile and Woodward area of Detroit. Wershe arranged for a friend to go to the motel and pay for a week’s lodging for that family.

There are limits to what Rick Wershe can do from prison. That’s why some of his friends try to organize legitimate food donations in his name. Wershe tries to be the catalyst for a few good deeds on the outside.

“To me that demonstrates he has redeemed himself on the positive side,” says Robert Aguirre, a former member of the Michigan Parole Board who is very familiar with the Rick Wershe story. When he was on the parole board Aguirre researched the Wershe case and tried in vain to interest the rest of the board in granting him parole.

“If you’re looking for (prison inmate) redemption you look for ways people are trying to make that happen,” Aguirre notes. “To me this shows a positive view of his socialization, it shows his level of redemption.”

Rick’s lifelong friend Dave Majkowski has worked hard to ensure this holiday food drive is legit—on the up and up. The last thing Rick Wershe needs is to somehow get involved in a phony charity scheme. Details of the Rick Wershe holiday food drive can be found on the Free Richard Wershe Jr. Facebook page.

"We're partnering with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan and Emmanuel Lutheran Church to provide meals to needy families in Rick's old east side neighborhood," Majkowski writes. "We have set up a PayPal account for the charity turkey drive." A link to the PayPal account for Rick’s holiday food drive is on the Free Richard Wershe, Jr. Facebook page.

If you’d like to know more about the Gleaners Community Food Bank, here is their Web site:

If money is tight but you can help Rick’s holiday food drive in some other way, you can contact Pamela Dickerson at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The phone number is: 313-492-2961.

For those who are eager to help Rick Wershe in some way, this is it. Five bucks, ten, twenty, whatever you can afford. It’s immediate, it’s worthwhile, it’s legit and it helps Rick feel good that he is trying to help someone else during the holiday season.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rick Wershe's next battleground: the Michigan Supreme Court

Rick Wershe’s struggle to win his freedom after 27 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was 17 has moved to the Michigan Supreme Court. In September, the Wayne County, Michigan judge assigned to his case agreed he deserved to be re-sentenced in light of significant changes over the years to Michigan’s drug laws and sentencing guidelines related to similar convictions. The Wayne County prosecutor is vigorously fighting Wershe’s re-sentencing, insisting he was sentenced to life and should stay in prison for life. Thus the case is now before Michigan highest court. Here’s what the lawyers are arguing about.

The Michigan Supreme Court

The court argument about whether Rick Wershe can be re-sentenced to time-served after 27 years in prison comes down to whether prison sentences can be changed or modified as the times and the laws and public attitudes change or whether a prison sentence meted out under the laws of the time must never, ever be changed because it was legal at the time. Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway believes Wershe can and should be re-sentenced. The Wayne County prosecutor vehemently disagrees.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office is squandering money and staff resources trying to keep Wershe in prison even though everyone else in Michigan sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide drug crime committed as a juvenile has been paroled.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who never misses an opportunity to whine that Wayne County doesn’t give her a budget sufficient to prosecute bad people who need to be behind bars, is wasting her budget dollars in a desperate effort to keep Rick Wershe in prison until he dies. Yet a prison official where Wershe is serving time says if there were such a thing as a model prisoner, Wershe would fit the description.

Worthy has admitted, in response to a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request from me, that records do not exist to support claims by her predecessor, Mike Duggan, now the mayor of Detroit, that Wershe was a drug lord with a gang that had a habit of getting themselves killed when they weren’t busy slinging dope or making God-fearing witnesses against Wershe disappear. A 2003 Duggan letter to the Michigan Parole Board argued Wershe should remain in prison the rest of his life as a menace to society for various alleged crimes Worthy now admits aren’t supported by any records in the prosecutor’s office files.

It is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about for fear all hell would break loose if a serious effort is made to find out the truth about the legend of White Boy Rick, as Wershe came to be known in the media. That legend is largely responsible for the inertia in releasing him from prison. No one wants to be the one to release a legendary menace to society, even if the legend was built on a pile of lies.

As her fight to keep this one man in prison until he dies plays out before the Michigan Supreme Court, the court battle isn’t about a vendetta against a white FBI informant in the mostly black Detroit drug world aided by police and political corruption or about the shaky and shady evidence used to condemn Rick Wershe to a life in prison.

Wait! Haven’t you told us Rick Wershe admits he was working to become a cocaine wholesaler?

Well, yes. That’s absolutely true. He did this after law enforcement recruited him at age 14 to become a confidential drug informant, then kicked him to the curb once they made their big case after he helped them achieve success. Wershe was about 16 or so and a school dropout because he was so busy playing drug world spy, he turned to the only trade he knew; the one law enforcement taught him. He set out to become a dope dealer.

In his 1988 drug trial the Detroit Police could not and did not produce any evidence that Wershe’s fingerprints or palm prints were on the cocaine he was accused of having in his possession. Don’t forget: Wershe wasn’t charged with conspiracy or racketeering. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute over 650 grams of cocaine.

Hmm, you might say. Did Detroit narcs plant the box of dope they “found” in a neighborhood back yard about half an hour after Rick Wershe was arrested, dope they claimed belonged to Rick Wershe even though there was nothing tying him to the box of cocaine? I am shocked. Shocked! To think you might have such a thought about these brave and honorable men in blue who risked their lives to make the mean streets safe from bad hombres like 17-year old Rick Wershe. But I digress. Let’s get back to the pending battle before the Michigan Supreme Court.

You don’t have to have a law degree to understand the key elements of Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. You just have to understand lawyers hate talking to each other in plain English. Take a deep breath and read the next paragraph, even though the second sentence may set a record for its length:

“The present case involves an important and significant issue of law and fact. In her opinion and order, Judge Hathaway ruled that because Mr. Wershe’s original sentence of mandatory nonparolable (sic) life as a juvenile for a non-homicide offense was indisputably unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, pursuant to subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the proper remedy for that unconstitutionality should be a resentencing, at this time, under the current version of Michigan’s controlled substances law, in which the Michigan Legislature has twice reduced the severity and eliminated the mandatory nature of the sentencing scheme which was applicable in 1987.”

Did you get that? It is from Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. Let’s break it down. At the time Wershe was arrested in 1987 and sentenced in 1988 Michigan’s drug law stated if the amount of drugs involved was over 650 grams (the prosecution claimed Wershe had 17 pounds of cocaine) the sentence was mandatory life without parole. That law, one of the harshest in the nation, was eventually overturned to allow for the possibility of parole.

Wershe’s lawyers argue sentencing a juvenile to mandatory life in prison for “a non-homicide offense” is cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, so the way to remedy that is to re-sentence him, under current Michigan drug law, as Wayne County Circuit judge Dana Hathaway has proposed. As the Wershe appeal notes "...the Michigan Legislature has twice reduced the severity and eliminated the mandatory nature of the sentencing scheme which was applicable in 1987.”

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s answer is basically what’s done is done and it was done properly under the law that was on the books at the time and therefore cannot and should not be modified. The fact the Michigan legislature has modified the law and the Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in on sentencing guidelines makes no difference to Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

“There has been no holding, let alone a retroactive one, that parolable mandatory life for a nonhomicide offense committed by a juvenile is unconstitutional,” Wayne County argues in its reply to Wershe’s appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Wershe appeal says Judge Hathaway has it right, noting: "In particular, she noted that while Mr. Wershe’s sentence of LWOP (Life Without Parole) has been changed, due to prior case law and the changes to the statutes, to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, he has never been sentenced by a judge who had discretion to impose anything but a life sentence, regardless of Mr. Wershe’s age at the time of the offense, the circumstances of that offense, or any other relevant factors."

This is saying, yes, Wershe is eligible for parole under Michigan’s revised drug law, but he was never re-sentenced under the new law. So, yes, his sentence in 1988 was proper at the time, but no judge has formally updated his sentence to reflect current law.

Just in case the Michigan Supreme Court justices are persuaded by the Wershe argument about the law, Kym Worthy’s argument to the high court shift gears at the end and says, in effect, what’s the big deal? Wershe can get relief through parole from the Michigan Parole Board or a commutation by the Governor and doesn’t need any interference from an uppity trial judge in Wayne County.

"The trial judge here is neither the governor nor the Parole Board. Defendant is serving a sentence of life in prison, and is subject to parole consideration...Whether he is being so afforded by the Parole Board is not a matter for consideration as to the constitutionality of the sentence...Further, defendant can seek a commutation of his sentence from the Governor, and is so doing. But his sentence is constitutional,” the Wayne County prosecutor’s brief argues.

The Wershe appeal focuses on the question of whether the Michigan criminal justice system is a living, evolving set of principles and rules versus a rigid, unchangeable system cast in stone:

"...the threshold issue this Court must face, and should grant leave to appeal on, is the definition of “retroactive change in law”... This Court should grant leave to appeal on this important, but as yet unanswered, issue to the bench and bar," the Wershe appeal states. That last phrase—bench and bar—is lawyer talk meaning judges and lawyers, as in the State Legal Bar, not the shot-and-shell joint over on the next block.

Barristers (lawyers) are sure to nitpick this non-lawyer simplification, but the issue for the Michigan Supreme Court in the Richard J. Wershe, Jr. case is retroactivity. Can and should the criminal justice system re-consider old cases? The times and public opinion and laws enacted by the Michigan legislature have changed since Wershe was sentenced to life in prison in 1988. Should the now-discarded law under which he was sentenced prevail forever or should the courts take a fresh look at his punishment in light of changes in the law and the Michigan Supreme Court’s own rulings that sentences need to be “proportionate” to the crime committed? That is the question.



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Police Corruption rampant in Rick Wershe's teen years

 Informant America has argued for months that Richard J. Wershe, Jr. remains in prison 27 years after a non-violent drug conviction because of a law enforcement vendetta that has continued to this day. Wershe helped the FBI prosecute politically-connected drug dealers and corrupt cops. This post looks back at police corruption in Detroit during the time Wershe was on the streets as an FBI confidential informant.

Yogi Berra, who was famous as a baseball catcher, manager and butcher of the English language, once said, “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.” He also said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” 

Rick Wershe, Jr. observed a lot by watching the rapidly escalating crack cocaine trade in Detroit in the last half of the 1980s, starting when he was 14 years old. The FBI paid him to do it. Rick Wershe also did a lot of talking. And that was a problem. Truth be told, in his teen years Richard Wershe, Jr. was often his own worst enemy, due to his mouth, mostly. He said things. He said things to the FBI. He said things to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. He said things to reporters. Some of the things were better left unsaid because they contributed to his White Boy Rick reputation and the erroneous impression that he was a key player in Detroit’s drug underworld who knew more than he actually did.

Rick Wershe in his teen years

There’s another side to this. That is, there were so many dirty cops in Detroit in that era, so many with badges tarnished by drug corruption, that many of them assumed Rick Wershe knew about their dirty deeds, even if he didn’t. This is worth noting because it may be a factor in the never-ending Detroit/Wayne County law enforcement establishment vendetta that has kept him in prison since 1988 for a single non-violent drug conviction.

Some cops feared Richard J. Wershe, Jr. because they feared what he might know—about them. The fact is, Wershe knew a few important things about Detroit police corruption, but it appears some corrupt cops he never met or heard of thought he knew about them, too. He didn’t.

All of this fits with the argument put forth on Informant America in numerous posts that Rick Wershe has remained in prison all these years after others convicted of the same crime as juveniles have been set free because of a law enforcement vendetta; retribution for daring to help the FBI put dirty cops in jail. How the vendetta has lasted this long and who has the political horsepower to keep it going at the local and state level is an enduring mystery in the Wershe saga.

For those who doubt this scenario, let’s review some news coverage of the late 1980s about Detroit police corruption.

Detroit News headline, May, 1988

In May, 1988, a few months after Wershe was convicted and sentenced to prison, the Detroit News reported on suspected widespread drug corruption in the Detroit police department. “100 cops investigated for drug ties or use,” read the headline. The copyrighted article reported on the scope of the scandal.

“Among the allegations:
  • Police officers, in and out of uniform, have robbed drug dealers of money and narcotics. The drugs were then sold by other dealers who split the money with the officers.
  • Officers have sold weapons and protection to drug dealers.
  • Police officers have bought and sold narcotics”

The article quoted one unnamed officer who described what life was like on the streets in 1988. "'Some nights it's like the Wild West out there, but our guys (police) are the ones doing the robbing,' one veteran investigator said."

A recent Informant America post (Rick Wershe and the Police Culture of Lying) noted the business-as-usual attitude about Detroit cops on the take by describing a transfer party for one DPD narc known as Popeye. His going-away gift from his fellow narcs was a shirt with lots of extra pockets sewn all over it. The joke signified Popeye’s reputation among his fellow officers for stealing wads of cash during raids on crack houses. Raid teams are supposed to turn in any cash they find in a dope house. Popeye did turn in drug raid cash, but frequently only after he helped himself to a stack of bills found in the raid location.

The newspaper stories about a widespread investigation of Detroit police corruption were attention grabbers. Imagine what a paranoid crooked cop fearing exposure and prosecution must have thought when reading another headline in that same month.

Detroit News headline, May, 1988

“Wershe to meet with police,” the headline read. The subhead said: “Focus will be on alleged protection bribe”

The meeting went nowhere. Assistant Wayne County prosecutor Pat Foley told Wershe he wanted the imprisoned young man to tell all about a Detroit police sergeant he had allegedly bribed to protect a stash house from being raided. Foley said if Wershe testified and helped convict the corrupt sergeant, the prosecutor’s office might consider asking Wershe’s trial judge to consider a reduction in his life sentence. Rick Wershe told Foley if “might” and “maybe” was the best he could do, he could forget any cooperation.

About a year after Rick Wershe went to prison another Detroit News front page story reported police in Detroit in the late ‘80s were accused of committing crimes more often than officers in the nation’s other 10 most populous cities.

" the past two years Detroit officers have been accused of rape, hiring an arsonist to set fire to an occupied apartment building, car theft, insurance fraud, cocaine and heroin possession, armed robbery, selling gun permits, concealing stolen property and hiring a contract killer," the newspaper reported.

Other Informant America posts have recounted how Rick Wershe, Jr. later played a pivotal role, from prison, in helping the FBI prosecute 11 police officers in a sting operation that netted one of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s police bodyguards and Young’s brother-in-law, the late Willie Volsan.

As part of that sting investigation, the FBI targeted one of Detroit’s top cops, Gil Hill. He was a local celebrity due to his role as Eddie Murphy’s boss in the Beverly Hills Cop movies of the mid-1980s. It was Rick Wershe who put Hill on the FBI’s radar in 1985 for possibly obstructing justice in the investigation of the murder of 13-year old Damion Lucas. The young Detroit boy was inadvertently killed in a drive-by shooting by members of the Johnny Curry drug ring. They were trying to intimidate the boy’s uncle and ended up murdering the little boy. Curry, who was married to Mayor Young’s niece, allegedly paid a bribe to Hill to keep the investigation away from the Curry organization.

Gil Hill, left, meets with Willie Volsan, center with back to camera and Sgt. James Harris, right
(FBI surveillance photo)

Hill has repeatedly denied to reporters that he accepted a bribe from Johnny Curry. The murder, however, has never been prosecuted even though the killer is known to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

Rick Wershe’s one and only parole hearing in 2003 was a kangaroo court charade with witnesses giving dubious testimony and shaky evidence to support the claim that Wershe was and is a menace to society who needs to remain in prison his entire life. One witness has since signed a sworn affidavit stating Gil Hill was involved in arranging the witnesses to testify against Wershe’s release on parole.

There is good reason to suspect Coleman Young may have let it be known that he wanted Wershe to rot in prison. It was no secret Young hated the FBI which had been after him since the congressional Commie hearings of the early 1950s. Young also hated FBI informants;“stool pigeons” to use Young’s phrase.

When it came to Rick Wershe, here was an FBI “stool pigeon” who slept with Young’s niece while secretly working with federal agents to send his niece’s husband, Johnny Curry, to prison for drug dealing. After Wershe went to prison, he helped the FBI again, this time in the successful prosecution of one of the mayor’s bodyguards and his brother-in-law, Willie Volsan, who was his niece’s father. If Coleman Young had an enemies list, Richard J.
Wershe, Jr. would easily make the top ten.

In addition to the enmity of Hill and Young, there are untold numbers of Detroit cops who may fear and despise Wershe to this day for what they think he knows about their own corruption. It all adds up to a fetid stew of revenge which is still simmering and keeping Richard J. Wershe, Jr. in prison.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Wershe Case goes to Michigan High Court. Why Justice Markman should recuse himself

This past Friday, attorneys for Richard Wershe Jr. filed an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court in a battle with the Wayne County Prosecutor over re-sentencing him from his life prison term for a 1988 drug conviction. One of the Justices, Stephen Markman, should recuse himself from this case. Here’s why…

Rick Wershe’s struggle to win freedom after 27 years in prison for a non-violent drug possession conviction when he was a teen has entered a new battleground. It is now before the Michigan Supreme Court. This all started with a decision this past summer by Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway to re-sentence Wershe. She is now his case judge. Thomas Jackson, the judge who presided over Wershe’s 1988 drug trial, retired. The Wayne County Prosecutor opposed the re-sentencing and appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which sided with the prosecutor on a legal technicality. Now Wershe’s attorneys have taken the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court.

To avoid the appearance of impropriety, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman should recuse himself from this case. Judges sometimes recuse or remove themselves from a case to avoid the appearance of a possible conflict of interest. The reason Justice Markman should recuse himself from the Wershe appeal that is now before the Michigan Supreme Court is simple and clear. Markman was the U.S. Attorney for Detroit when his team of prosecutors and FBI agents relied extensively on the clandestine work of Rick Wershe to win convictions in Operation Backbone, one of the biggest Detroit police corruption cases of modern times.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman

What’s more, Justice Markman was Detroit’s U.S. Attorney when DEA agents went to see Wershe in prison and pleaded with him to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the deadly deeds of Best Friends, a murder-for-hire gang in Detroit.

Wershe agreed to cooperate with the DEA and the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office. He was transported to Detroit from a prison in Phoenix where he was in federal protective custody because of his pivotal role in helping Markman’s office win the convictions of nearly a dozen police officers and the brother-in-law of then-mayor Coleman Young of Detroit. Operation Backbone was an FBI sting operation. An undercover FBI agent was posing as a big-time Miami cocaine dealer who needed police protection for drug and money shipments moving through Detroit.

FBI agent Herman Groman, who had been Rick Wershe’s “handler” when Wershe was working as a paid informant in the Curry Brothers cocaine case, visited him in the state prison in Marquette and asked him to vouch for the undercover agent to Cathy Volsan Curry, Wershe’s onetime lover. She was the niece of Detroit mayor Coleman Young. Wershe contacted Cathy and said one of his “connects” from Miami needed police protection for dope and cash shipments, and his “connect” was willing to pay the police for protection. 

Ms. Volsan Curry was known to be close to Sgt. James Harris who was a member of Mayor Young’s security detail and friend of her father, Willie Volsan, the mayor’s brother-in-law. Cathy turned to her father with Wershe's request and Wilie Volsan in turn arranged for help from Sgt. Harris and other police officers willing to aid a dope dealer for cash. Harris, Volsan and the other officers were eventually convicted and sent to prison.

Cathy Volsan Curry and her father, the late Willie Volsan (FBI surveillance photo)

Operation Backbone was a very large feather in Stephen Markman’s cap and Richard J. Wershe, Jr. played a key role in putting it there.

When Rick Wershe returned to Detroit to help the federal government prosecute drug-related crimes—again—Markman’s office made two promises Wershe argues are critical to his continued imprisonment, which is the issue now before the Michigan Supreme Court.

Wershe says Assistant U.S. Attorney James King told him he would “go balls to the wall” to help him with his state case if Wershe would just help prosecute the Best Friends murderers. Wershe did his part but he contends King broke his word, a commitment in behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s office, to help him get his life sentence reduced. The result is self-evident. Wershe is still in a Michigan prison. Wershe believes case law is on his side regarding a prosecutor breaking his promise. As a practical matter there is very little, if anything federal prosecutors can do regarding a state prosecution.

The second key issue which arose while Markman was the Detroit U.S. Attorney was a formal agreement signed by Wershe and Assistant United States Attorney Lynn Helland, which states whatever information Wershe provided to federal investigators would not be used against him.

Wershe has a signed agreement about his testimony and cooperation. But does it cover all of his help for the federal government?

Wershe believes this agreement applies to all of his cooperation with federal investigators. But the letter specifically addresses his cooperation in the police corruption case and it commits the federal government to moving Wershe out of a state prison and in to a federal “WitSec” (Witness Security) prison because of his cooperation in the police corruption case. Whether that agreement applies to other cooperation such as Wershe’s grand jury testimony in the Best Friends prosecution is debatable but it's a debate Wershe wants to have.

Wershe's Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit about his cooperation in the FBI's Operation Backbone was agreed to while Justice Stephen Markman was the head of the office. 

Wershe argues his federal grand jury testimony in the Best Friends case was used against him at his 2003 Michigan parole hearing. One of the witnesses, former Detroit Police homicide inspector William Rice, who is now in prison on fraud and drug charges, signed a sworn affidavit stating an assistant Wayne County prosecutor had given him a copy of Wershe’s grand jury testimony to review before testifying against Wershe at the parole hearing. That grand jury testimony was never unsealed by a federal judge. Release of grand jury material under seal is a felony. How the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office obtained a copy is a key issue in Wershe’s argument that there were improprieties in the U.S. Attorney's office and the Wayne County Prosecutor's office regarding the use of his grand jury testimony against him in the 2003 parole hearing.

In his time as the U.S. Attorney for Detroit, Justice Markman demonstrated a willingness to prosecute controversial cases including police corruption. His reputation in that regard is well-earned.

Some might ask why I am bringing this up. Wouldn’t Justice Markman look favorably on Wershe for all the help he gave Markman’s office in the early 1990s? Maybe. Maybe not. That assumes Markman remembers Wershe’s role in several of the big cases that were prosecuted on his watch. Wershe interacted with Markman's staff attorneys, not Markman himself. If Justice Markman doesn’t remember the help his office got from Richard J. Wershe, Jr. he may look at Wershe as just another lifer looking for a break.

It would be better for all involved if Justice Markman avoids controversy in this high profile case by recusing himself from deciding whether Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is entitled to be re-sentenced.