Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rick Wershe’s Parole Hearing: His Tormentors Just Won’t Give It Up

On June 8th, Richard Wershe, Jr. spent over four hours fighting for his life. He was tested by an Assistant Michigan Attorney General who ignored key elements in the Wershe story while grilling him at length about other parts. And for good measure, the media was chided for not finding a bombshell that turned out to be a dud.

Rick Wershe handled himself pretty well, all things considered, at his long-awaited hearing before the Michigan Parole Board. A lot of time was spent asking Wershe about his criminal activities before his conviction and imprisonment for life for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a teen. Wershe is Michigan’s last remaining prison inmate doing life for a non-violent drug conviction. The Michigan Parole Board is facing two federal lawsuits over the question of why they are keeping Wershe in prison when all other inmates similarly charged have been released for time served.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - hoping the Michigan Parole Board will end his life sentence. (MDOC photo)

There were some tense moments at the hearing, which will be explored in this blog post.

In response to questions from Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel, Wershe explained his troubled childhood and how he came to be recruited by the FBI to become a paid informant against the Curry drug gang, which dominated the drug trade on Detroit’s east side in the mid-1980s. Wershe is believed to be the youngest informant ever recruited by the FBI for criminal investigations.

Over the course of the hearing it became clear that Rothermel was determined to highlight all of Wershe’s crimes and mistakes and bad choices. Rothermel was not interested in hearing about all of the help Wershe provided the FBI. Perhaps that’s because Wershe helped expose corruption in the so-called criminal justice system of Michigan. To elicit details about Wershe’s informant work on public corruption would mean Rothermel would have to shine the spotlight on the graft, corruption and injustice within the system of which he is a part. Can’t have that, now can we?

Wershe was required to be truthful about every crime and misdeed brought up in the questioning. He knew and understood that total honesty was vital to winning parole. That’s why he became agitated when Rothermel threw him a curve ball.

To understand the curve ball, it’s necessary to offer some background. After Rick Wershe was sentenced to life in prison in Detroit in 1988, he was approached in Marquette State Prison by FBI Special Agent Herman Groman, his “handler” when Wershe was working as an informant from the summer of 1984 until the spring of 1986.

Groman told him the government would get him transferred to the federal Witness Security program if he would help initiate an FBI undercover sting operation aimed at prosecuting drug corruption in the Detroit Police Department. The Witness Security program (WitSec) is a prisoner version of the Witness Protection program. Certain federal prisons have a special secure section for convicts who are informants and who have helped the government make important cases. It’s still prison, but life in the WitSec units is far better than in regular prison facilities.

Wershe agreed to help the FBI again, and Operation Backbone was a big success. Close to a dozen police officers were indicted and pled guilty or were convicted. Operation Backbone also ensnared Willie Clyde Volsan, the former brother-in-law of Detroit’s late Mayor Coleman Young.

Rick Wershe was transferred to a WitSec unit at federal prison in Phoenix, Arizona. His time there was unremarkable until he befriended Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the Mafia hitman turned informant who helped bring down John Gotti, the Godfather of Godfathers in the U.S. Mafia.

Gravano found out Rick Wershe’s father was a licensed gun dealer. Soon, Gravano asked Wershe to help him get some guns that could be used to murder John Gotti, Jr. for some feud he and Gravano had.

Wershe informed Herm Groman, his longtime FBI handler, about what Gravano was up to. Groman had to report it to Washington. This stirred up a hornet’s nest in Washington at the FBI and Justice Department. Here was one informant informing on a higher profile informant, the government’s prize witness against the Mafia.

The FBI/Justice Department investigation of Wershe’s claims about Gravano got muddled, perhaps deliberately, and the matter ended inconclusively. But Wershe, for his own safety, had to be transferred. They moved him to another WitSec unit in a federal prison in Florida.

While there, Wershe got wind of a used car sales scheme involving guys on the outside and a fellow WitSec inmate named Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols.

Wershe saw an opportunity to buy used cars in Florida and ship them to Michigan to be re-sold at a higher price. He says he did it to help his mother and sister make some money. He also admitted he learned, at some point, that these were stolen cars.

Wershe was busted along with a number of others involved in the car scam. One of them was Antonio Ferrer, a car salesman on the outside. When Ferrer was arrested, he did what millions of criminals do: he told on the others in hopes of getting a break on his part of the case. It worked. Ferrer was charged, like Rick Wershe, with Racketeering and Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering. For singing a song about everyone else in the scheme, Ferrer was sentenced to probation on both counts. No time served. He did, however, have to pay a fine for his part in the car scheme.

The Miami-Dade police detective on the car case, Les Cravens, apparently loved the story Ferrer told him. Cravens wrote up what is called a probable cause affidavit, laying out all the claims Ferrer made about the others in the case, including Rick Wershe. Such affidavits routinely list all the crimes and possible crimes related to the investigation. It’s like throwing all the allegations against a wall and seeing which of them stick.

One of Ferrer’s allegations was that Rick Wershe proposed hiding drugs in the door panels of cars being shipped out of Florida as a means of smuggling narcotics.

The Florida prosecutor never pursued this allegation against Rick Wershe. He pled guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. But there was nothing—nothing—in the charges against him or in his court paperwork for the plea agreement that mentioned drugs.

Thus, Rick Wershe was stunned at his June 8th parole hearing when Assistant Attorney General Rothermel brought it up and asked him about it. Wershe, getting agitated said, “I never saw that document.”

Rothermel proceeded to quiz Wershe, over and over and over about Ferrer’s “admission” that he, Wershe, suggested shipping cocaine in the door panels of cars.

Wershe raised his voice and said, “I never dealt with drugs in prison.” Rothermel told him to calm down.

The Detroit Free Press, always willing in past years to smear Rick Wershe as a “drug lord” and “kingpin” without any evidence to support that libel, had a screaming headline on its Web site after the hearing that Wershe had a “meltdown”! They got over their own hyperventilating "meltdown" and calmed down later, posting a more professional headline.

Wershe did not have a meltdown. He didn’t “lose it.” No one had to restrain him in his seat. Not even close. He did become agitated and verbally combative about a serious charge he had never heard before. This was serious stuff. This was his one shot. His parole hearing. And a lawyer for the state was bringing up something that blindsided Wershe.

The reason he hadn’t heard about it was simple. It was a document of unsubstantiated allegations from a co-defendant who was angling for the best deal he could get. And he got a good one. Probation. No jail time. In the end, the Florida prosecutor apparently concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to bother with this allegation. That’s why Wershe had never heard it before. It was an unsupported allegation in a cop’s affidavit to get criminal charges in a case.

Rothermel showed his real motive, I believe, when he kept stating, repeatedly, “I found this document in the Florida court file. I don’t know why no one else did.” Before long, it became evident his repeated harangue about the document was less about Rick Wershe and more about tweaking the noses of those of us in the media who have lambasted the Attorney General’s Office for sloppiness and negligence in the Wershe case. It was Rothermel’s chance—or so he thought—to get back at the media. “I-I-I” found this, why didn’t anyone else?”

Well, others, myself included, did find it, but disregarded it as an unsupported allegation from a guy looking to get a good plea deal. It happens all the time in law enforcement.

Here’s an excerpt from the probable cause affidavit that Scott Rothermel mistakenly assumed no one else found but him:

Excerpt with highlights from a Florida "Probable Cause" affidavit in Rick Wershe's case in that state.

If the Parole Board reviews the affidavit and the official record in Rick Wershe’s Florida case, they will discover that Mr. Rothermel made an ass of himself over a document with unsupported, unsubstantiated allegations by a criminal looking to get a good deal.

Since Rothermel made such a big deal about “finding” documentation in the Wershe case, it’s time to point out the sloppiness and negligence of his office in a federal lawsuit Wershe has pending against the Michigan Parole Board for violating his civil rights by refusing to grant him parole.

The Attorney General of Michigan is the “lawyer” for the Michigan Parole Board, so the AG’s office is litigating Wershe’s civil rights case.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Michigan Attorney General’s office claimed—falsely—that Rick Wershe, the plaintiff, had been convicted in federal court for possession of gun silencers. They got it wrong, plain and simple.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office has been so determined to find dirt on Richard J. Wershe, Jr. that they cited to a federal court a gun silencer case they attributed to Rick Wershe. If they had done thorough and accurate legal work they would have noticed the case involved his father, Richard J. Wershe, Sr. and not Richard J. Wershe, Sr. His prison file is full of these kinds of sloppy criminal justice "fact" assertions and it has cost him all of his adult life behind bars. 

If the Attorney General’s Office had done what lawyers call due diligence they would have discovered that case involved Rick Wershe’s father—Richard Wershe, SR—and not Richard Wershe, JR. There IS a federal case about gun silencers against a defendant named Richard Wershe, but the Michigan Attorney General got it wrong. They cited the wrong person. The wrong defendant. There is no evidence they have done anything to correct their mistake. Apparently they have a hard time admitting mistakes.

Note to Scott Rothermel: I found this, why didn’t your office? “I-I-I” found this. Why was the Attorney General’s office so sloppy and negligent that you couldn’t find it?

The difference between Rothermel’s big show at the Parole Hearing over the unsubstantiated Probable Cause affidavit that HE found in Florida and what I just pointed out is substantial. Did I mention HE found it? He told us that over and over at the parole hearing. Another note to Scott Rothermel: Good for you! Way to go! Attaboy! Give yourself a gold star.

The error by the Attorney General’s Office in the Wershe civil suit is real, it is factual, it is in the court record. The co-defendant’s claim in Florida about Wershe conspiring to smuggle drugs in the door panels of cars, is not.

Rick Wershe can only hope the Michigan Parole Board can distinguish between Scott Rothermel’s showboating about an irrelevant document—and fact.

The next step in the Wershe parole process is for a stenographer to type up the entire four hours of his parole hearing. Copies of the transcript will be given to the full 10-member Parole Board and they will vote, in July or August, on whether to grant him parole. Six of the 10 members must vote to grant parole.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wershe has his Parole Hearing at last.

Richard J. Wershe Jr., Michigan's longest - serving prison inmate for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a juvenile, had a hearing before the Michigan Parole Board today. Overall it went well. Here's a brief recap. A more detailed report will be in the next blog  installment on June 18:

Rick Wershe Jr. Answered questions, admitted guilt and gave a full and granular - detail accounting of his brief life of crime and longer life as a confidential FBI informant, beginning at age 14, in a very detailed exploration of his saga in questioning by an assistant state attorney-general. Wershe answered questions from 9:00 am until 1:10pm, with a brief 10-minute potty break in between. 

Wershe got agitated by questions about allegations made against him by a police informant in Florida, but generally answered questions smoothly.

"I've lost 30 years of my life," he told the two Board members present for the hearing. I messed up. I'm sorry."

An official transcript of the hearing will be prepared, and after a review, the full Board will vote up or down on parole. The vote is expected some time this summer. 

More in the next blog posting. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Moment of Truth for White Boy Rick: Richard Wershe’s Parole Hearing Is At Hand

The years of waiting are over. On Thursday, June 8, 2017, the Michigan Parole Board will hold a public hearing on the issue of parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—the longest serving inmate for a non-violent drug crime committed as a juvenile. Wershe has been locked up for 29 years, the victim of a criminal justice system vendetta against someone who told on the wrong people—people in political power. Here’s what to expect:

The day Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has dreamed about, prayed for, longed for, will arrive later this week. After 29 years in prison on a life sentence for possession of cocaine, Wershe will get his first meaningful chance at parole. The Michigan Parole Board has voted to consider granting him parole.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - Hoping for parole after 29 years. (MDOC photo)

He had a parole hearing in 2003, but that was a sham, a go-through-the-motions kangaroo court staged to give the appearance of a consideration of parole. It was far from it.

The Michigan criminal justice system—from Detroit to Lansing—was furious that Wershe had told the FBI about political and police drug corruption in Detroit. Wershe had told the feds how the late Gil Hill, the former Inspector in charge of Homicide and later Detroit City Council President, had been paid off by the Johnny Curry drug gang to ensure a homicide investigation did not find the true killers of a 13-year old boy, Damion Lucas, who had been killed mistakenly by two members of the Curry organization.

For a $10-thousand-dollar bribe, Hill focused the investigation on an innocent man, who was released after months of intense behind-the-scenes intrigue between the FBI, the Detroit Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. The Detroit Police Department, through Hill and other top command personnel, obstructed justice to protect the Curry gang because Johnny Curry was married to the niece of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, one of the most powerful and feared politicians in the city’s history. In 2003, the powers-that-be manipulated Wershe’s parole hearing to ensure he stayed in prison. It was retribution for daring to tell the FBI about the sewer of corruption flowing through Detroit’s criminal justice system. The 1985 Damion Lucas killing has never been solved and prosecuted.

None of that will matter on Thursday. This parole hearing is sure to be different. The first thing to know is this: no decision is expected that day. There will be no immediate vote on parole for Wershe. The full board will be given a written transcript of the hearing and the full board will vote after considering the transcript. The full board has to vote. That’s the way it is in lifer cases.

The only expected witness is Wershe himself. Two members of the Parole Board, chair Michael Eagen and Member Sharon Wilson, will conduct the hearing. An assistant state attorney general will ask questions. The Michigan Attorney General is the official lawyer for the Parole Board.

Wershe is expected to be contrite and remorseful. He will tell the Board he was brought up in a dysfunctional family with no meaningful parental supervision. His parents divorced after a stormy, violent marriage. Wershe’s mother left Rick and his sister Dawn with their father, a man with a violent temper and dreams of becoming a self-made millionaire. Success eluded him and he was seldom home. 

When the FBI came around looking to recruit 14-year old Ricky to be a secret informant against the Curry drug gang, Richard Wershe, Sr. readily agreed to let his son enter a dangerous arrangement no responsible and caring parent would accept. Rick’s late father saw an opportunity to make another quick buck.

Wershe is expected to recite all of this to the Parole Board as he did in 2003. "I really didn't have any parental supervision at the time," Wershe testified 14 years ago. "I was basically raising myself and I went down some wrong paths."

If Wershe is bitter toward his parents, he hides it, for the most part. But there is no doubt he understands he is, in a sense, a victim of his childhood. "I went down the wrong path and I grew up in prison" he testified in 2003. "I had no one there to guide me other than older people who were all criminals their selves."

The Parole Board will hear or read in reports that Wershe has been what amounts to a model prisoner. He doesn’t get in trouble and strives to get along with everyone. He got his high-school diploma equivalency while he was behind bars. He has taken every course and counseling opportunity provided to him.

The Parole Board won’t hear testimony about how federal and local narcs in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) used their teen informant and then kicked him to the curb when they made their case against the Curry gang. 

Wershe was suddenly without a source of money and without a viable trade. He turned to the only trade he knew. 
The one law enforcement had taught him. He tried to become a big-time drug dealer—and got caught before he could make the big leagues.                                                         

The media helped bury him behind bars by relentlessly calling him White Boy Rick. Gullible reporters bought the dubious prosecution tale that this white kid somehow ruled the roost in Detroit's murderous drug trade; that prison-hardened adult black men were taking orders from a white kid who couldn't even grow a decent moustache. Newspaper and TV reporters never questioned the evidence for the claim that Wershe was a "drug lord" and a "kingpin." The image of a white teen Godfather of drugs in the black ghetto was too sensational to ignore.

Wershe is expected to say he understands the gravity of his brief life of crime. He is expected to say he has done all he can to prepare for life on the outside. He has lots of people willing to help him and he doesn’t lack for employment opportunities. Hollywood has become interested in him thanks to a movie about his strange tale, that is now in production.

Wershe’s attorney, Ralph Musilli, hopes the hearing will be brief. That means less pages that have to be transcribed. That means the full Parole Board can vote sooner, perhaps at their meeting in July.                                                 

Maybe the legend of White Boy Rick is about to end.
Maybe the rest of the life of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is about to begin.


Parole Hearing for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.
Date: June 8, 2017
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility
the T-100 Training Center (limited seating available)
Address: 3500 N. Elm Rd. Jackson, MI 49201
This is a correctional facility with commensurate security measures. Cell phones and recording devices will not be permitted.