'White Boy Rick' expected to be released in 2020 or earlier

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Richard Wershe Jr. will finish his sentence on Nov. 25, 2020.

Richard Wershe Jr., who served three decades behind bars on drug charges, is expected to be released from a Florida prison at least a year early. 

Wershe, dubbed "White Boy Rick," is now set to be released from prison on Nov. 25, 2020, a year earlier than his set release date, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Wershe, who gained notoriety during Detroit's crack cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s, was convicted in 1988 of manufacturing/possession with intent to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine. He was additionally sentenced to serve five years in prison in Florida after he was convicted on racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering charges in 2006.

Those crimes happened while he was incarcerated in Florida as part of the federal witness protection program.

Wershe was originally scheduled to be released from Putnam Correctional Institution in East Palatka, Fla., on April 20, 2021, but was moved up for good behavior, said Patrick Manderfield, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. 

However, Wershe’s longtime lawyer, Ralph Musilli, said Thursday they are hoping to have him released even earlier than November 2020.

"November 2020 is the official out date when he will finish his sentence in Florida, but we had a commutation hearing set on Dec. 5, to get him out earlier," Musilli said. "But the board in Florida is made up of the governor, treasurer and two others... two out of the four went to George HW Bush's funeral so they canceled the hearing and we're trying to get it rescheduled."

Wershe, 49, was paroled in July 2017 by Michigan Parole Board officials. The 10-member parole board decided unanimously during an executive session to parole Wershe.

“I know that I messed up,” Wershe told the panel in July 2017. “ I can’t go back. I can (only) go forward. You will never see me again (if paroled).”

A commutation reduces a sentence but does not nullify the underlying conviction.The hearing takes about 15 minutes and Wershe has many letters of support from family and friends for consideration, Musilli said. 

"We're kind of hoping we can get him out. The poor guy has been in going on 31 years now," Musilli said. "He could have murdered someone and been out a decade ago."

The earliest the hearing could be rescheduled is in March, Musilli said. 

A movie about Wershe's life debuted on the big screen in September starring Matthew McConaughey.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_