July 20, 2020 – The gates couldn’t swing open soon enough. Former Detroit teenage drug boss and illegal underage FBI mole Richard (White Boy Rick) Wershe walked free from 32 and a half years in prison this week. He was the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in American history. A Hollywood film starring Matthew McConaughey depicting Wershe’s tragic life story, hit theatres in September 2018.
The 51-year old Wershe was released from a Florida halfway house Monday and is expected to return to Detroit, a city he dominated the headlines in for much of the late-1980s without the public having a clue he was on Uncle Sam’s payroll for a majority of his reign on the streets at the height of Motown’s glitzy, neon-infused coke era.
Wershe’s “White Boy Rick” alter ego, flashy, fast-talking and quick-whited, became a genuine icon of the city in the “Greed is Good” decade when he should have been in high school. Instead, he transfixed the media with his flair (mink coat, fat gold chains) as a part of the dope-boy chic jet-set crowd, the company he kept (all the era’s biggest African-American drug kingpins) in his rise up the underworld food chain and the women he dated, most notably, Cathy Volsan, the Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young’s niece and wife of his mentor in the dope game, eastside crime lord, Johnny (Lil’ Man) Curry. All before he was 18.
And that wasn’t even the half it.
According to the federal government itself, Wershe was the most crucial and productive informant the DEA in Michigan had ever had. Wershe was recruited straight out of the eighth grade in June 1984 and put to work as a mole by a federal task force made up of the DEA, FBI and Detroit Police Department investigating the Curry Brothers Gang on the city’s eastside.
The task force instructed him to gain Curry’s confidence and he did, getting paid more than $60,000 over the next years to feed the feds intelligence on Curry Brothers Gang affairs and the activities of other influential gangland figures he had gotten close to. Wershe met members of the task force through his father, Richard Wershe, Sr., a local gun dealer, hustler and federal informant, portrayed by Oscar-winner McConaughey in the movie two years ago.
The Curry Brother Gang was busted in the spring of 1987, months following the task force cutting ties with Wershe. Just weeks after Curry was taken off the streets, Wershe, 17 at the time, was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in front of his grandmother’s house on the eastside of Detroit on the late afternoon of May 22, 1987 for slow-rolling a stop sign and found in possession of a box of cocaine buried under a neighbor’s back porch. Wershe ditched the 8 kilos of coke after a post-stop scuffle.
In January 1988, Wershe was found guilty at a week-long trial held in front of Wayne County Recorder’s Court Judge Thomas Jackson under circus-like conditions and a white-hot media spotlight and sentenced to life in prison under the now-defunct “650 Lifer Law.” Three years into his sentence, he entered the Witness Protection Program and helped the feds bring down the blood-lusting Best Friends gang and build the landmark Operation Backbone case targeting a ring of dirty cops with ties to the Mayor Young’s office and decorated DPD Homicide Commander and Mayoral hopeful Gil Hill.
Wershe’s best friend and right-hand man Stephen (Freaky Steve) Roussell was killed by the Best Friends in September 1987 in a dispute over a girl. Roussell, 21, was with Wershe when he placed the 8 keys under his neighbor’s porch in May of that year following the traffic stop.
Both while working for the feds as a teenager and then again as an adult in the Witness Protection Program, Wershe gave information on an unsolved murder that was alleged to have been buried by Gil Hill in the homicide division of DPD. On April 29, 1985, 11-year old Damion Lucas was accidentally slain in a drive-by shooting at his uncle Leon Lucas’ house on Detroit’s westside. Leon Lucas was a member of the Curry Brothers Gang. Wershe told the FBI that Lucas had a murder contract on his head because of a beef with Johnny Curry over boxing tickets promised to square a debt that never materialized and after Curry’s henchmen mistakenly killed the innocent little boy they were protected by Hill via a payoff from Curry.
Hill was famous from his acting role as Eddie Murphy’s police-captain boss in the smash-hit 1984 movie Beverly Hills Cop and its two sequels. Curry admitted to paying a bribe to Hill in an interview with The Detroit News from prison in the 1990s, but denies ordering the shooting that led to Damion Lucas’ death.
After serving 12 years behind bars for a federal narcotics conspiracy, Johnny Curry was released from prison in March 1999. His one-time protégé, the man responsible for getting him arrested and who by that time had spent pretty much the same time locked up, White Boy Rick Wershe would have to wait more than two decades for a reprieve and his first taste of freedom since the Reagan administration and the Just Say No campaign.
When Hill lost his bid for the Mayor’s office in 2001, he privately blamed Wershe and his finger-pointing in the Lucas matter, per sources. Hill always adamantly denied any wrongdoing in the Lucas investigation. He was elected Detroit City Council President in the coming years, stilling holding considerable sway in the area’s political scene until he died in 2016 at 84.
Mayor Coleman Young blasted Wershe as a “stool pigeon” in interviews with the press on Wershe’s case. Young served 20 years in his post (1974-1994) and passed away in 1997 of emphysema.
The 650 Lifer Law was ruled unconstitutional and wiped off the books in 1998, making anybody convicted under the law immediately eligible for parole. Wershe, whose legacy is memorialized by Miami Vice and 21 Jump Street episodes inspired by his story, the McConaughey film and name-checks and, at times, support from Detroit hip hop royals Kid Rock and Eminem, didn’t pass muster with the parole board until 2017 after four previously unsuccessful bids.
Kid Rock appeared and spoke on his behalf at the 2003 hearing in Detroit. Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Scott Silver (The Joker, 8 Mile, The Fighter) attended the 2017 hearing held in Jackson, Michigan.
After Wershe was finally granted parole from the state of Michigan in the summer of 2017, he was forced to go do another three years in Florida for a stolen-car ring he participated in while incarcerated in the Witness Protection Program during the 2000s. Wershe has been in a halfway house and working an outside job since late last year.
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