Over 3,000 readers have checked out Sunday’s blog post about Rick Wershe’s pending parole interview. This blog is normally updated every other Sunday. It is foolish and perhaps frustrating to wait until Feb. 26th to report on what happened today - February 14th - at Wershe's parole interview. Here is a summary based on the impressions of Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, who sat in on the interview.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was a good day for a guy who hasn’t had many good days in the last 29 years.
Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was interviewed for about 45 minutes by the chair of the Michigan Parole Board for a possible parole from his life sentence. He was sentenced at age 18 for an arrest when he was 17. It was a non-violent drug conviction but he was sent to prison for life under a draconian state law that has since been discarded. Every other Michigan prison inmate charged similarly as a juvenile drug offender under that law has had their case reviewed and most have been released from prison.
|Rick Wershe, Jr. in court in Detroit in September, 2015 (Photo: Brian Kauffman, Detroit Free Press)|
Wershe’s lawyers have been fighting in the federal courts against his continued imprisonment, arguing his civil rights have been violated because he’s been treated differently from every other state prison inmate similarly charged.
Those federal cases are heating up and the State of Michigan is on the hook to explain, in court, why they are treating Wershe in a different manner than all other inmates. The State of Michigan doesn’t have a good answer for that, thus Wershe’s consideration for parole has received priority interest by “the system.”
Wershe was interviewed first thing Tuesday morning via remote video conferencing hookup by Michael Eagen, chair of the Michigan Parole Board. Eagen was in Lansing. Wershe was at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, where he is serving his prison term. There were several inmate interviews scheduled with Wershe's, but Eagen did only one of them; Richard Wershe's. Another member of the Parole Board handled all the others.
“It went very well,” Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, said. “He (Wershe) was very candid. He answered all his questions.”
|Ralph Musilli-Rick Wershe's attorney. He sat in on Wershe's parole interview.|
Eagen didn’t ask any trick questions. It was stuff that was expected. He asked Wershe about his arrest, what happened, how long he had been dealing drugs and how much money he made.
Rick Wershe has always admitted he did wrong. He’s always admitted he was wrong to try to become a big-time drug dealer. But the argument has been that Wershe has been treated unfairly.
He was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to become an informant against a politically-connected drug gang because he knew some of the leaders. Unlike many snitches who cooperate to get leniency on a drug bust, Wershe was taught the drug trade by members of Detroit’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
When Wershe got the evidence the Feds needed against the Johnnie Curry drug gang, the task force kicked Wershe to the curb, so to speak. They used him, then dumped him.
Cast adrift, with no parental supervision to speak of, Wershe turned to the only trade he knew; slinging dope. It was a bad decision and he’s paid for it by spending his entire life behind bars while cold-blooded hitmen who murdered numerous people in the drug trade have been arrested, tried, sentenced and released in the time Wershe has remained in prison for his non-violent drug offense.
As the Informant America blog has documented over the past two years, Wershe’s real crime was that he informed on drug-related corruption in the Detroit/Wayne County criminal justice system. He told on the wrong people and they have waged a vendetta against him ever since. The corrupt Detroit/Wayne Criminal Justice system has never forgiven Wershe for telling the FBI the truth about them.
Wershe kept helping the Feds even after he went to prison. He helped launch an FBI undercover sting operation that resulted in the conviction of several police officers and the brother-in-law of then-Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit. Young and his brother-in-law, Willie Volsan, are both deceased.
As a result of his FBI cooperation, Wershe’s life was in danger so he was put in the federal Witness Security program, or WitSec, a special prison system for convicts who help make important criminal cases.
While he was in WitSec in Florida, Wershe made another bad decision. He got wind of a used-car arrangement on the outside. Wershe figured it was a good way to help his mother and sister get a car. It turned out to be a scam and Wershe got busted and was charged. He pled guilty and was sentenced for a new crime and evicted from the WitSec program and returned to the Michigan prison system.
Eagen asked Wershe about this in the interview. Wershe explained what happened and Musilli interjected, noting the Florida prosecutor had threatened to prosecute Rick’s mother and sister if he tried to go to trial. Arguably, Wershe was coerced in to pleading guilty. His court-appointed Florida lawyer had no experience in criminal cases. He was there to fulfill a legal requirement for sentencing...and to collect a fee from the court.
Moreover, Florida charged Wershe with racketeering when the rest of the co-conspirators were essentially charged with possession of stolen property. Most of the others in the case were given probation and restitution. Wershe was given a five-year sentence to be served consecutively with his life prison term in Michigan.
In other words, if he gets paroled in Michigan, he may still have to do five years in a Florida prison. But Wershe and his lawyers are fighting one battle at a time.
In the Florida case, there are suspicions Michigan officials urged the Florida Attorney General’s office to “throw the book” at Wershe as part of the continuing vendetta against him for helping the FBI prosecute public corruption in Detroit and Wayne County. On its face, the case against Wershe in Florida is totally out of sync with all of the other defendants charged in that case.
The Florida Attorney General brought charges against Wershe in Martin County. Wershe had never been to Martin County, but it is known as perhaps the harshest criminal punishment court in the State of Florida. When Wershe was brought to Martin County for arraignment and he told the county jail matrons why he was there, they told him, “Honey, they brought you here to this county because they want to hang your ass.” They meant that figuratively, but the jail matrons were being straight with him about harsh justice being the norm in their county. The Florida case is another battle for another day. For now, the focus is on Michigan.
Eagen told Wershe he would make his report to the full Parole Board at their next meeting, the second Friday in March. That’s March 10th. If the full board votes to consider parole, notice will be sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, the judge who presides over Wershe’s drug conviction. The prosecutor and judge have 30 days to respond.
The next step would be 30-day notice of a public hearing followed by a public hearing, perhaps in early June. The Parole Board could decide at that session whether to grant parole to Richard J. Wershe, one of their most notorious inmates and a potential poster child for everything that's wrong with the War on Drugs.
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