Update: Parole Board Votes to Free Wershe, But Florida Still Wants Him
July 14th, 2017, 2:44 PM
After nearly 30 years in prison and repeated attempts to get parole, convicted cocaine trafficker Richard Wershe Jr. finally gets what he wanted.
The Michigan Parole Board, which conducted a hearing for Wershe June 8, voted Friday at an executive session to parole him. Wershe needed six of 10 votes. WDIV reports the vote was unanimous.
"After all of these years Justice has finally prevailed," retired FBI agent Herman Groman, who knew Wershe since he was a teen, tells Deadline Detroit. "Today is a good day. He was a bad kid who should have gone to jail for a few years but not for the rest of his life. I'm confident that the criminal justice system will never see White Boy Rick again."
Retired FBI Gregg Schwarz, who has advocated for his release for decades, says:
Finally, after 29 years the judicial system in the state of Michigan has granted parole to an individual who deserved incarceration for a period of 5 to 10 years. The case of Richard Wershe Jr. should remain as a gold standard for abuse and public corruption on the part of the city and state and federal officials.
It's unclear what happens next.
The Corrections Department can release him in 30 to 90 days. However, he pleaded guilty in Florida in 2005 for being part of a car theft ring while he was housed in a federal prison there as part of the witness protection program. He was sentenced to five years and has since been given 488 days of credit for time served. He would be entitled to good time credit once he begins serving time there.
The Florida Department of Corrections on Friday issued a statement to Deadline Detroit saying that it intends to arrange for Wershe to serve his time.
Richard Wershe’s Florida sentence is consecutive to the Michigan sentence. As such, Wershe still has five years to serve with the Department, less 488 days credited by the court for pre-sentence time served in accordance with FS 921.161. If released from Michigan, the Department will arrange for him to return to Florida to serve the Martin County sentence.
Wershe's attorney Ralph Musilli says he'll file a legal motion in Florida, arguing that the state should grant him time served for the entire sentence and let him go free.
"I'm going to call my corresponding attorney down there and get started on it this afternoon," Musilli explains. "I'm going to give them reasons not to" have him serve time.
Not 'Enough Local Yokels'
"Enough is enough," he adds. "They don't have enough local yokels for jail? They need to import them?"
If his motion fails, he says, Wershe would have to serve about 22 months, but at least he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The Florida Department Corrections puts the sentence he must serve as closer to three years, even with the good time calculated.
He said he was relieved when he got the word about the parole decision and he spoke to Wershe, who said he's relieved, but he doesn't know where to go.
Wershe turns 48 next Tuesday.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who recently said she'd no longer oppose parole, issues a statement:
"The position of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office is that this is a decision that has been made by the parole board and that we have no further position. We respect and accept the decision."
The Michigan Department of Corrections also releases a statement Friday:
'The Parole Board speaks as one through this decision, and individual board members will not be commenting on it."
Former Detroit investigative reporter Vince Wade, who lives in California and is working on a book on Wershe, said Friday:
"The continued imprisonment of Rick Wershe when hit men and large-scale drug dealers have been released much sooner was truly a major injustice.This is a case where justice has been delayed but it’s no longer denied."
Wade shared a statement he got from Eric Smith, assistant to the warden at Oaks Correctional Facility in northern Michigan where Wershe is housed:
"He was obviously emotional. 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."
Wershe became an informant for the FBI at age 14 as the ferocious crack cocaine epidemic became pervasive in the city. He worked with the FBI and Detroit Police to build a case against big-time drug dealers including Johnnie Curry, who was married at the time to Mayor Coleman A. Young's niece, Cathy Volsan.
Mandatory Life Without Parole
Curry and his brother Leo ended up getting busted and serving time in prison. Wershe started dating Curry's wife while Curry was behind bars.
At 17, Wershe was arrested for cocaine trafficking and was sentenced under a state law that mandated that he get life without parole because he possessed more than 650 grams of cocaine. The law was later changed and his sentenced was changed to life with the possibility of parole.
By most accounts, Wershe was a drug dealer on the rise, but he never came close to being as big as some of the major traffickers in town who served time and were paroled while he remained behind bars.
His nickname, White Boy Rick, raised his image to mythic stature.
In the early 1990s, he worked with the FBI to orchestrate a drug sting that netted a number of crooked cops and Mayor Young's common-law brother in law. After that, he went into the witness protection program in prison, first in Arizona where he was housed with convicted mobsters including New York Underboss "Sammy the Bull" Gravano.
After that, he went to a Florida prison. As a result of the car theft conviction, he was kicked out of the witness protection program and returned to the Michigan prison system.