After 30 years in prison for a first time non-violent drug offense and advocacy for his release by FBI agents who he worked with, the Michigan Parole Board unanimously voted in favor of Rick Wershe’s release.
Richard Wershe, known as “White Boy Rick,” has served 30 years of a life sentence for possession with intent to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine in Michigan. On July 14, the Michigan Parole Board voted unanimously to release Wershe, though he may have to be transferred to Florida to serve time for a car heist he plead guilty to in 2006 if Florida doesn’t count time served in Michigan toward his sentence there. Wershe has been the longest serving prisoner in Michigan for a non-violent crime he committed as a juvenile at 17 years old, despite serving as a law enforcement informant since the age of 14. The case has incited controversy for decades because of the extreme sentencing Wershe was faced with and the fact that law enforcement pushed a juvenile into entering and becoming involved in a world of drugs for their own benefit.
The Detroit Free Press reported on July 14:
It started small with Wershe giving FBI agents the identities of people in pictures and grew from there, he said. At first, Wershe said, he thought it was cool that he worked for law enforcement, including the Detroit police, and got paid the first time he made a drug buy for them […] Wershe was put in the federal witness protection program in a Florida prison after he cooperated with FBI agents to bust corrupt police officers while in prison for the drug crime in Michigan. Retired FBI agent Herman Groman worked with Wershe on that operation, has fought for the inmate’s freedom.
Retired FBI agent Greg Schwartz has also fought for Wershe’s release and offered him help in starting his new life once released.
During Wershe’s time as an informant, he helped officers convict 14 drug dealers and gangsters, including some of the biggest ones in the history of Detroit. Despite the assistance Wershe provided and the ethical concerns about law enforcement officers exploiting a teenager, he was initially sentenced to life without parole until drug sentencing laws changed. He has maintained throughout his prison sentence that police led him on a path to dealing drugs. Many of the big-time drug dealers he helped convict were released years ago. His life sentence as a juvenile has been linked to Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s vengeance against Wershe for assisting the FBI in exposing a corrupt Detroit Police drug ring that embarrassed his office and implicated many people close to the mayor.
Wershe has inspired a feature film currently in production starring Matthew McConnaughey as his father.
In response to the news that the parole board voted in favor of his release, Wershe told local Detroit News outlet Channel 4, “I cried man. I cried. I didn’t know what I would do, you know? I mean, these people have been very nice and supportive, and I appreciate all of them, and the one who brought me the news has been so supportive, and I don’t think there’s a person that works here that thinks I belong in prison.”