Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rick Wershe is in Florida to do his time

Richard Wershe, Jr., the longest-serving Michigan prison inmate sentenced as a juvenile for a non-violent drug crime, is finally in Florida serving what remains of a five-year prison sentence in an auto fraud and theft scheme from 2004. Wershe was paroled in July by Michigan authorities, after serving nearly 30 years of a life sentence. Critics say the repeated refusal to grant Wershe parole until this year was a local justice system vendetta for helping the FBI prosecute politically-connected drug dealers.

Rick Wershe, the guy the media loves to call White Boy Rick, is in the Florida sunshine, at least during prison yard time. He’s looking forward to a different kind of sunshine, the sunshine of freedom, perhaps in a few months. The U.S. Marshal’s service was contracted to transport Wershe from Michigan to Florida. It took several weeks, even though he traveled by “Con Air”, the nickname for a prisoner air transport service operated by the Marshal’s Service. Wershe was in lock-ups in Milan, Michigan and Oklahoma City from mid-August until his arrival in Florida last week.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr.-Florida inmate photo (Photo-Florida Dept. of Corrections)

Wershe told Kevin Dietz of WDIV-TV, Detroit that he’s “doing great” and is looking forward to complete freedom for the first time in his adult life.  

Rick Wershe was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to become the youngest Bureau informant in the War on Drugs. He was not a drug user but he knew the Curry Brothers, an east side gang that was a target of investigation, because, the leader, Johnny Curry, was engaged to Cathy Volsan, the niece of then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young. Mayor Young had been an FBI investigative target most of his life.

The teen informant did a good job, with his late father collecting cash payments from the FBI for his son’s undercover work. Young Wershe told the FBI about corruption involving former Detroit Homicide Inspector and later City Council President Gil Hill, now deceased. 

The late Gil Hill, on the left, in FBI surveillance photo from Operation Backbone, an undercover sting operation that lured police officers in to protecting drug shipments and cash being transported for money laundering. (FBI photo)

The FBI dropped Rick Wershe as an informant and he made a decision to try to become a drug wholesaler—and got caught by the Detroit Police. He was sentenced at age 18 to life in prison under a harsh Michigan law that has since been discarded.

While in prison, Rick Wershe, Jr. helped the FBI again, this time in an undercover sting operation that nailed a dozen police officers and Mayor Young’s brother-in-law, the late Willie Volsan.

The late Willie Clyde Volsan, the brother-in-law of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Volsan was tried, convicted and sent to prison in the Operation Backbone undercover investigation. Volsan found police officers willing to guard fake drug and cash shipments for  money in an FBI undercover sting operation. (FBI photo)

Wershe was placed in the federal Witness Security (WitSec) program for prison inmates who help develop big cases. He did time in federal prisons in Arizona and Florida.

While in the federal Witness Security program in Florida, Wershe got involved with selling used cars from prison. Some of the cars were stolen, but Wershe continued to participate in the scheme, anyway.

When charges were brought against him, Wershe was told his mother and sister would be prosecuted, too, because they had helped him with the car scheme. It was a dubious threat, but to protect his mother and sister, Wershe pleaded guilty as charged.

Wershe got jammed with a prison sentence in Florida that was structured to run consecutive to his life sentence in Michigan in the drug case. His Florida court-appointed attorney did not argue for a concurrent sentence. Thus, when Wershe was granted parole in Michigan, he still faced time in Florida. He’s doing that time now and looking forward to the day he can be truly free.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

No, Rick is NOT in Florida

Followers of the misadventures of Rick Wershe are aware he was on his way to Florida to serve more prison time in an auto theft and fraud case after Michigan authorities granted him a parole from his life sentence. He had served nearly 30 years of a life prison sentence for possession of cocaine in a non-violent case that began when he was 17. Is Rick Wershe in harm’s way regarding Hurricane Irma? The answer is, no.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is not in Florida.

He’s not in any danger from a hurricane. He is in another state, not in the path of the hurricane, sitting in a federal lock-up, awaiting transport to Florida when it’s safe.

Wershe is in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s service. Transporting prisoners to and from courts is one the agency’s primary duties. This includes moving them from prison to prison. 

Rick Wershe is a state prisoner and states needing to move an inmate can contract with private, for-profit ground transport services or they can contract, on a prisoner-by-prisoner basis, with the U.S. Marshal’s Service. That’s what Florida has done in the Rick Wershe case.

For Wershe, all things considered, his situation is much better than it might have been.

Wershe was released from Michigan custody to the custody of U.S. Marshals on August 22nd. That same day he was transported to the federal prison in Milan, Michigan, outside Ann Arbor, where he was housed for over a week.

Wershe is, of course, a high-profile prisoner due to all the publicity surrounding his case and the movie that’s being made about his story. For his safety, Wershe was held in an isolation unit. His lawyer, Ralph Musilli, got to visit with him for an hour or so. Rick reported he was well-treated. He also appreciated the “upgrade” in food. Federal prisons generally have better food service than state prisons. This is particularly true regarding Florida.

After his stay in Milan, Wershe was flown to another state to await another flight to Florida. He was flown aboard a passenger aircraft that is part of a fleet known as Con Air. That’s short for Convict Air, which is a civilian nickname for what is formally known as the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation system, or JPATS. The transport service was featured in a 1997 Nicolas Cage action movie. The plane used in the movie is not part of the JPATS fleet. Con Air sounds cooler than JPATS, but the U.S. government isn't known for cool names.

This is one of the prisoner transport aircraft in the JPATS fleet. Rick Wershe, Jr. may travel to Florida aboard a plane like this one. (Photo: U.S. Marshal's Service)

Flying, as opposed to bouncing around endlessly in a prisoner van, is much more humane and much-preferred. Wershe was flown from Michigan to another state, where he is housed in another federal prison awaiting a second flight to Florida. He may be there awhile.

The State of Florida spent much of last week scrambling to move state prison inmates from at-risk lockups to safer, more secure prisons. As of the weekend, Florida had evacuated 31 of its 143 prisons. It is doubtful Florida will be accepting transport prisoners any time soon.

No matter where Wershe is housed, every day since August 22nd counts as time served toward his Florida sentence. The food and facilities are generally much better in the federal prison system as opposed to state prisons, so for Rick Wershe, sitting in a federal prison awaiting transfer to Florida is not a bad deal.

Still, this process requires some adjustment. Rick is now housed in a cell with two other inmates. In Michigan, he had a private cell for years. He has reported the other inmates are nice young men.

Wershe’s arrival in Florida is up to Mother Nature. Con Air will fly to Florida when it’s safe. In the meantime, he is doing alright—and waiting out the storm.

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