Sunday, July 30, 2017

Rick Wershe’s long ordeal—A few words about a few People


As of this weekend, there is still no word from Florida regarding what they intend to do about Rick Wershe’s prison sentence in a case involving a car theft ring while he was serving time there in the Witness Security program. This week Rick told me if they are going to come get him he wishes they’d do it, so he can fulfill that obligation and be truly free. During this wait-and-see period, Informant America will take a minute to profile some key people in Rick Wershe’s long, long struggle.

Twenty-nine-and-a-half years is a long time by anyone’s reckoning. That’s how long Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has served a life sentence for possession of a large stash of cocaine. He was busted when he was 17-years old. Until his parole this month, he had been Michigan’s longest-serving inmate sentenced as a juvenile in a non-violent drug case.

As Rick says, there are good days and bad days. He’s taken it one day at a time. Several people have helped him do that and they are featured in this blog post.

Let’s stipulate up front that Rick Wershe has had many supporters in his long struggle—too many to list. Informant America, which only deals with the Wershe story, has had over 305-thousand-page views since it began in March of 2015. Clearly, a lot of people are interested in his story. But it hasn’t always been this way. There have been times when Rick has felt totally forgotten, totally alone.

***

One guy who never forgot, who never abandoned Rick through his darkest days, is his childhood friend, Dave Majkowski. They used to shoot at rats in the alleys of Detroit when they were kids. They go back that far.


Roman Wershe, Dave Majkowski, Rick Wershe, Jr.



The photo above is of Rick with his grandfather, Roman Wershe, and his friend, Dave Majkowski. The Majkowski family moved to the suburbs as Detroit “changed” during the 70s and 80s. The Wershe family stayed in Detroit, Rick became an informant for the FBI and his fate was sealed.

Over the years, Majkowski has never stopped believing. He never gave up on his friend, even when things looked hopeless. And things looked hopeless for a l-o-n-g time.

Majkowski has tirelessly operated the Free Rick Wershe Facebook page. It has become the go-to site for people looking for the latest info on Rick Wershe.





But Majkowski has done more than manage a Web page. He’s helped Rick with his holiday food drive for the needy. He’s called and written to politicians, judges, lawyers, you name it. He’s been there when Rick needed someone on the outside to do what needed to be done.

***

Gregg Schwarz has been like a dad to Rick Wershe; more so in many ways, than his biological father.

Schwarz is a retired FBI agent. He got to know Rick at the end of the FBI investigation of the Johnny Curry drug gang.

Schwarz has long believed it wasn’t right for the federal government to use a 14-year old kid as an informant in a dangerous undercover assignment in a drug case, only to abandon him.

After Rick Wershe helped the FBI prosecute the Currys, the government kicked him to the curb—cut off all contact with the kid and let him fend for himself after teaching him how to be a drug dealer.

When Rick Wershe got busted for possession of drugs, the FBI wouldn’t help him. They didn’t go to the Wayne County Prosecutor and explain he got involved with the drug trade while helping them. To do so would require admitting they had used a juvenile as an informant in a risky undercover operation. In order to save face—and careers—they let Rick Wershe be sentenced to life in prison.

Schwarz thought that wasn’t right. He still thinks that way. While he couldn’t overrule the system, he stayed in touch with Rick Wershe on a regular basis for 29 years. He's counseled Rick. He's consoled Rick. Perhaps most important, he's been a true friend by telling Wershe when he isn't thinking straight. He tells Rick Wershe the truth as he sees it. Like Majkowksi, Schwarz has made phone calls, written letters and pestered anyone and everyone who might help.

That’s how I got involved. In the late 80s, when Rick was front-page news, I was working on investigative reporting projects and documentaries for WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 in Detroit. Chris Hansen covered the crime beat and covered Rick’s story.

I became aware of Rick Wershe when I did an investigative series of television reports called Who Killed Damion Lucas?  That 5-part series documented how the Detroit Police Department covered up the truth about the killing of a 13-year old boy by members of the Curry drug gang. 

The top command of the Detroit Police Department essentially obstructed justice in the Damion Luas case in order to shield Cathy Volsan Curry, the niece of then-Mayor Coleman Young and the wife of drug gang leader Johnny Curry. They tried to frame an innocent man but that case was eventually dropped under pressure from the FBI and the Justice Department. 

The key figure in the police obstruction of justice corruption scheme was the late Gil Hill, then the head of Homicide for the police department. He later became a city councilman and the council president. Johnny Curry later admitted he paid Hill $10-thousand to make the homicide investigation go away.


Damion Lucas - A homicide victim who has never had justice.



When I reported the story in 1988, I knew Rick Wershe had played a role, but it wasn’t clear to me until years later just how important his role was. Wershe provided the FBI with critical information which fortified what the feds had picked up on wiretaps in the Curry investigation. 

As it turns out, Rick Wershe’s role in the Damion Lucas matter turned out to be his most important contribution as an FBI informer. It revealed police corruption the FBI didn’t know existed until Wershe told them about it.

In the summer of 2014, Gregg Schwarz contacted me about tracking down a copy of the series of TV reports I did on Damion Lucas. As Schwarz told me the Rick Wershe story, I got hooked, too. That’s how this blog got started. That’s how I got started writing a book about Rick Wershe and the trillion-dollar fiasco that ruined his life. We call it the War on Drugs.

***


Attorney Ralph Musilli



The other key figure in the Rick Wershe saga is his longtime attorney, Ralph Musilli. People have criticized and second-guessed Musilli many times regarding Rick Wershe. ‘Why doesn’t he do this?’ ‘Why doesn’t he do that?’ ‘What’s taking him so long?’ I've disagreed with him, too.

These critics, arm-chair quarterbacks and second-guessers overlook one key thing: Ralph Musilli has been fighting for Rick Wershe for years with no pay. Nada. Zip. Not a dime. 

Lawyers call this kind of work pro bono—for the public good. The Rick Wershe case surely must be one of the longest-running pro bono cases in the history of the legal profession in Michigan. When I look at all the legal briefs Musilli and his law firm have developed in the fight to free Rick Wershe, when I look at all of the case law research, the court appearances and meetings with the Michigan Parole Board, all of the phone calls from media types like me, I can safely write that Ralph Musilli’s pro bono work for Richard Wershe is easily in the six-figure range. Plus, Musilli’s assistant Theresa, has been on top of this fight, too, and she has been a telephone lifeline for Rick when things have not gone well.

It must be particularly galling for Musilli to hear all of the second-guessing, particularly from other Johnny-come-lately attorneys who see dollar signs by attaching themselves to the Rick Wershe story in the final inning.

Let’s be clear about the facts.

Michigan’s corrupt criminal justice system engaged in a years-long vendetta against Richard Wershe for telling the FBI about the corruption of Gil Hill, a politically powerful criminal who pressured and cajoled the Detroit/Wayne County political machine to heap retribution on the guy known in the media as White Boy Rick. Cops, prosecutors, judges and appellate court judges all did Gil Hill’s bidding in denying Rick Wershe parole. Sadly, Gil Hill got away with it. The FBI never had quite enough evidence to indict him.

It can be argued that the single most important thing that changed Wershe’s fate was Musilli associate Paul Louisell’s filing last December of a writ of habeas corpus in Detroit federal court against the Michigan Department of Corrections. A writ of habeas corpus essentially places a burden on the state to show why they are holding someone in custody.

When U.S. District Judge George Steeh accepted the motion, and set it for a hearing—that changed everything.

Suddenly, the State of Michigan to had to prove in a court of law why they were still holding Rick Wershe when every other inmate similarly charged had been paroled. The state knew it had nothing, absolutely nothing, to support the false claim that Rick Wershe was a menace to society.

In less than five business days after the filing of that motion, the Michigan Parole Board announced an expedited review of Rick Wershe’s parole status.

The rest is history.

   

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rick Wershe’s Next Big Challenge—Life on the Outside


In a unanimous decision, the 10-member Michigan Parole Board voted on Friday to grant parole to Richard J. Wershe, Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a juvenile. He has served 29-and-a-half years of a life sentence. He may have to do some time in Florida for an old auto theft fraud case before he tastes freedom, but sooner or later Wershe will face another big challenge: Life on the outside.



The world has changed since Rick Wershe was last a part of it.



Rick Wershe’s many supporters—and there are many—have rightfully been celebrating since the Michigan Parole Board finally decided to deliver some long overdue justice. Wershe has served far more time than truly big-time drug dealers and drug-world hitmen, guys who kill people for money. All of them do ten or twelve years and they’re out. 

As Informant America has reported many times over the last two years, Rick Wershe was a political prisoner. He was recruited as an FBI informant at age 14 and he became too good at it. He became known in the media as White Boy Rick. He told the FBI about the drug corruption of politically-connected and politically-powerful people in Detroit and Wayne County. Those people fought to keep Wershe in prison until he dies. This is covered in a piece I wrote for The Daily Beast.

All of that is over now. He could taste the fresh air of freedom as soon as the middle of August. This, by the way, is the normal process. If the Parole Board votes to give an inmate parole, the inmate doesn’t pack up and check out the same day. A parole officer must be assigned and that parole officer is required to investigate what Rick Wershe intends to do on the outside, where he intends to live, and with whom. The parole officer must interview the people Rick Wershe will live with and impress upon them the importance of not having any firearms in the same house, and certainly no drugs. All of this takes time. We’re talking about a bureaucracy, after all. For an inmate who has been granted a parole, all that matters is that vote by the Board. A few more weeks is nothing.

Rick Wershe has a case in Florida hanging over his head, and it may mean another delay in his release, but that will be addressed in another blog post.

For now, let us consider this: when he gets out, Rick Wershe faces a whole new set of challenges. He’s going to have to learn how to live on the outside. He’s been in prison his entire adult life. He’s never been a free adult. Think about that. Think about the adjustment he is going to have to make. The “system” has no mechanism to help him with that. He will be on his own. It is hoped that his many supporters will help him with that, too. That’s what this blog post will explore.

The first thing for Wershe’s family and friends to know is this: he needs protection. I'm not talking about protection from the criminals he knew in the past. I’m talking about hustlers and hucksters who hope to make a fast buck off of him.

Here’s an example: on Friday, after the news of his parole broke, some guy called Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, and wanted to start a business selling their autographs. Really. There are going to be all kinds like that coming out of the woodwork. They will try to track him down and pester him with crackpot ideas on how to make money off his notoriety.

Don’t get me wrong. Rick Wershe can take care of himself. He has spent three decades in the prison system. But the sheer volume of nut jobs and opportunists who see dollar signs when they see his name may be a bit much for even a street-savvy guy like Wershe. He has several job offers awaiting him and the last thing he needs is one of these creeps showing up at his job with a scheme to make money off the White Boy Rick legend.

Rick Wershe is going to face a world very different from the one he knew in 1988. When he went behind bars, Ronald Reagan was President. Gulf War I and Gulf War II hadn’t happened yet. Neither had the war in Afghanistan. Neither had the presidency of Bill Clinton. No one knew who Monica Lewinsky was. No one had heard the President referred to as Dubya. No one had ever heard of Barack Obama.

There were still phone booths on many street corners. Internet Web browsers and search engines hadn’t been invented yet. No one had ever heard of Google, Amazon or Netflix. Fox News was non-existent in 1988. Talent-challenged Kim Kardashian was not yet famous for being famous.

Rick Wershe certainly knows about all these things. He’s been in prison but not in solitary confinement. Still, the man became an adult in prison. He’s never had to cope with the day to day bullshit the rest of us accept as normal. People who consider themselves his friends can do a lot by helping him make the transition to life, a whole new life, on the outside. As he said last week when talking about his legendary past, White Boy Rick is dead.

  ***
This morning (Sunday, July 16th) I received an email from Rick Wershe that I think needs to be shared with his family, friends and supporters. Communication with him is challenging and slow, so I haven’t asked his permission to share this. But under the circumstances, I’m going to bet Rick won’t mind if I let all of you know what he had to say.

A couple of notes about this email:

The “Mr. Eagen” he refers to is Michael Eagen, the chair of the Michigan Parole Board. Eagen took the unusual step of personally interviewing Rick at length one-to-one last February. At the end of that interview Eagen told Rick he handled himself well and indicated he was favorably impressed. It gave Rick his first dose of optimism about the system in three decades.

His reference to Judge Hathaway is Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, who took over the Wershe case after his original trial judge retired. Judge Hathaway had the courage to take a second look at the Rick Wershe case and she concluded that, under current law, his sentence should be revised to essentially time-served. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy threw a fit and fought it all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which cravenly refused to review the matter. That left Wershe in limbo. 

Ironically, that cowardly decision by Michigan's highest court seemed to energize and motivate many people to demand justice. Suddenly, the Wershe case became politically HOT. Kym Worthy, facing considerable heat, moved to 'no position' and didn't object to parole. We saw the end result in the Parole Board vote this past Friday.

What follows is Rick Wershe's email to me verbatim:

Hey Vince yes WOW it feels so surreal it hasn't sunk in yet!!! 10 my way!

Mr Eagen has restored my faith that there are still good honest people in the system. Everything he told me he did!!! That has never happened to me in 30 years!!! I am at a loss for words at how highly I think of him!!! If I could see him I would just say thank you and I will never let you down! He's right up there with how highly I think of Judge Hathaway!!!
Man, Vince, this shit is finally over! And the stars are finally shining on me! I am just so happy!
Thank you and everyone else who helped expose their lies and cover-ups along the way!!!
Take care, all the best!!!

Rick makes a good point. Michael Eagen did the right thing in a system that has done the wrong thing for a long, long time. He deserves credit for it. All supporters of Rick should consider sending Eagen a short note thanking him for standing up for what is right and finally delivering justice in the Richard Wershe case. Guys like Eagen don’t get thanked very often. Here’s how to contact him:

Michael Eagen
Chair
Michigan Parole Board
Michigan Department of Corrections
PO Box 30003
Lansing, Michigan 48909





Friday, July 14, 2017

Rick Wershe, Jr. granted parole from life sentence


Free at last. Well, almost. Richard J. Wershe, Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving inmate for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a juvenile, was granted a parole today by the Michigan Parole Board.

"I'm coming home," an emotional Wershe told his lawyer's secretary before hanging up and promising to call back later.

He was informed of the Michigan Parole Board’s decision by Eric Smith, administrative assistant to the warden at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan, where Wershe is regarded as a model prisoner. "He was obviously emotional," Smith said. "I sat with him for about two hours and we talked about the future and the next steps. (It was) pretty much what you would expect from a guy waiting for news that changes his life."



Richard J. Wershe, Jr. - Light at the end of the tunnel (MDOC photo)


The decision comes just four days short of his 48th birthday. Wershe has spent his entire adult life behind bars. Wershe has been viewed as a political prisoner because it appears that political forces in Detroit have fought to keep him in prison. Other drug offenders who were charged in far bigger cases than Wershe’s, have been paroled after serving ten years or less. Even drug underworld hitmen, responsible for multiple murders, have served less time than Wershe.

Wershe, who was recruited as a confidential informant by the FBI at age 14, incurred the wrath of the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County criminal justice system after he helped the feds prosecute drug corruption involving a dozen cops and the common-law brother-in-law of former Detroit mayor Coleman Young. The case resulted in multiple convictions and prison sentences.

“I told on the wrong people,” Wershe has said.

He still faces prison time in Florida for a conviction in an auto fraud case involving stolen cars. His attorney intends to petition the Florida judge to change the two-year sentence to be concurrent with his Michigan time, which would eliminate any additional time in a Florida prison.


There will be more detailed coverage in a blog post on Sunday.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Rick’s Life Sentence Drug Arrest—What Really Happened



There are many controversies surrounding the case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—who is serving a life prison term for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a teenager. One contentious issue was his arrest in May, 1987 on charges of possession of over 650 grams of cocaine. What really happened? At his parole hearing last month Wershe explained, under oath, step-by-step, what went down that night.

The first thing to know before reading any further is that Rick Wershe, Jr. is not, and never has been, one of those Innocence Project inmates. Wershe admits he was involved in crime as a juvenile. He admits he wanted to be a big-time drug dealer. (He never made it, despite his reputation in the media.) But there’s another side to the story and it’s a big BUT.


Rick Wershe, Jr. with his mother Darlene at Oaks Correctional facility. He's waiting for the Parole Board to decide on his petition for parole from his life sentence in a 1988 drug case. A decision is expected this month or next.



As noted on this blog many times, Rick Wershe, Jr. was recruited into the drug world at age 14 by FBI agents in pursuit of the Curry Brothers drug gang on Detroit’s east side. He was recruited as a Confidential Informant. Wershe had not been part of the dope scene before that, but he lived in a racially mixed neighborhood, he was street-wise and he knew the Currys.

When the feds made their case against the Currys, they dropped their kid-informant, who was used to living a fast life on FBI and Detroit Police cash. Being a fully immature teen, Rick got the stupid idea that he ought to try his hand at becoming a big-time drug dealer, too.

The night of his fateful arrest, Wershe testified he was on his way to his grandmother’s house to pick up two kilos of cocaine he had stored there for a buyer named Brian McClendon, who had already paid him for the dope.

On the way to get the cocaine and deliver it to McClendon, who was following in another car, Wershe and his friend Roy Grisson, who was driving, were stopped by Detroit Police officers Jeffrey Clyburn and Rodney Grandison.

Wershe testified: “I knew Grandison very well.” Interestingly, in the parole hearing, Assistant State Attorney General Scott Rothermel, who seemed to want to fly-speck every aspect of Wershe’s time as a drug dealer said: “I’m not interested in that narrative.”

That may be because Rothermel, the seeker-of-truth-if-it-suits-his-line-of-questioning, didn’t want it to come out that FBI agent Herman Groman, who was present at the parole hearing, had proved with a tape-recorded telephone conversation that Grandison had lied—a felony—at Wershe’s drug trial. Introducing that would be messy. It would call in to question Wershe's conviction because a key witness committed perjury. Theoretically, it could re-open Wershe's drug conviction, and then where would the criminal justice system be? The system that has kept him in prison for 29 years based on that court conviction?

Grandison testified at Wershe's trial that he’d never met Wershe before that night. When Groman was working with Wershe at Marquette prison in 1990 to set up a sting operation that netted convictions of a batch of corrupt cops, Groman arranged to have Wershe call Grandison at home on a pretext. The phone conversation was unimportant, but it established beyond all doubt that Police Officer Rodney Grandison knew Rick Wershe, Jr. and he had perjured himself on the witness stand. If Rothermel had allowed Wershe to explain, he would have testified that Grandison used to invite him to his home often to smoke weed.

Wershe and Grisson didn’t have any drugs in the car when the police stopped them. But they had money, a lot of it. 

There was $34,000 in cash in a plastic grocery shopping bag. More on the amount later. 

The police spotted the cash on the floorboard of the car and confiscated it. They had no warrant to do so and there was no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.

It was a warm night and when the police stopped the car in front of Wershe’s grandmother’s house, Richard Wershe, Sr. came out to see what the commotion was about. Wershe Sr. grabbed the bag of cash from the police in a scuffle. Rick’s sister Dawn grabbed the cash and ran in to grandma’s house with it.

Rick Wershe, Jr., meanwhile, walked away while his family and the police were fighting over the cash. He was not carrying anything. But that quickly changed. Wershe said he went to his grandmother’s detached garage and got a box of drugs that had arrived that day. 

Wershe’s pal, the late Steve Rousell, had put the drugs in the garage after a shipment had arrived that day from Miami.

Somehow, Wershe managed to take the box of drugs to the next block and hid it under a residential porch without getting his fingerprints or palm prints on the box. 

“We were in a panic,” Wershe testified. He admits he encountered Camden Street residents Greg and Patricia Story but, counter to testimony at the trial, Rick says he did not have a conversation with them and he denies offering Patricia Story five-hundred dollars to keep the box hidden. 

“I was on the porch, trying to look inconspicuous,” Wershe said.

It didn’t work. The police arrived about ten minutes later on foot and took Wershe in to custody. He testified they put him in handcuffs and walked him between the houses back to Hampshire Street where the traffic-stop and scuffle occurred.

There was a fence between the houses. Wershe says Grandison pulled him over the fence gate by a gold chain around Wershe’s neck, then threw him to the ground. “He pistol-whipped me," Wershe testified. His eye socket was shattered and Wershe wound up going to the hospital instead of jail.

The neighbors eventually found the box of drugs and called the police, and some narcs came and took custody of the drugs about an hour after the incident occurred.

Wershe admits he has changed his story over the years and he suggested he once told a different version under oath because a lawyer was trying to help him win an appeal. He says what he told the Parole Board on June 8th was the absolute truth.

Now. About that bag of money in the car when the police stopped Wershe and Grisson. Wershe testified the bag contained $34,000. It was money that Brian McClendon had paid him for two keys of coke.

But the police report after the incident said $29,000 was confiscated when Wershe was arrested. 

What happened, Wershe was asked at his parole hearing, to the difference between the $34,000 that he was paid and the $29,000 the police turned in? “You have to ask the Detroit Police that,” Wershe said, without cracking a smile.