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.
"...in 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.
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