Fla. board takes 'White Boy Rick' commutation under advisement
Two retired FBI agents who worked with Richard Wershe Jr. during his years as a drug runner and alleged federal informant pleaded with the Florida clemency board Wednesday for his early release from prison.
Wershe, 49, who gained notoriety as "White Boy Rick" for dealing drugs as a teenager in Detroit in the 1980s, is asking to be let out of prison a year and a half ahead of a scheduled release next year.
He is serving time in Florida for a 2006 conviction stemming from his role in a car theft ring.
The clemency board said Wednesday it would take the request to commute Wershe's sentence under advisement. "They'd like to review the case further before making a decision," said Kelly Corder, a spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Offender Review.
A commutation reduces a sentence but does not nullify the underlying conviction.
Retired agents Herman Groman and Gregg Schwarz traveled to Florida to testify on behalf of Wershe, who served three decades behind bars on drug charges in Michigan.
"A great injustice to Richard Wershe Jr. has been done by the government," Groman told the board at the hearing in Tallahassee, Florida.
Groman said Wershe is the first defendant he has "advocated" for during his 35-year law enforcement career. He said he believes Wershe was being held in prison for a long time because he cooperated with federal agents investigating public corruption.
"I believe in part, the larger part, the reason for this is because of his cooperation with me on public corruption matters," Groman said.
"I fully recommend him for clemency," Schwarz said. "He's contributed greatly to law enforcement. I challenge anybody to tell me one person who has contributed more to law enforcement than this man."
Both agents were grilled by clemency board members and Gov. Ron DeSantis about Wershe's involvement in a stolen car ring while he was being held in the witness protection program in a Florida prison.
Groman told the board members that Wershe told him his role was minimal and that others convicted in the scheme have already been released from prison.
"He was committing crimes in prison, correct?" DeSantis asked. "In the early 2000s he was involved with a multi-state auto theft ring. ..."
DeSantis added: "So he had been helping you guys and then turned around and engaged in additional criminal misconduct and that's the reason why he's in (a) Florida prison, correct?"
"That's true but you need to take a look at the totality over the last 32 years of everything that he has done and contributed," Schwarzreplied.
"He's never had any tickets while he's been in prison,"Schwarzsaid. "He's never caused any trouble (in prison)."
Officials announced in December that Wershe would be released from prison in Florida in November 2020, rather than April 2021.
Wershe, who has been in prison since 1988, was paroled from Michigan's corrections system in July 2017 and sent to Florida to serve time for the 2006 conviction.
Wershe has said he pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering to spare his mother and sister from further problems. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
“I know that I messed up,” Wershe told the Michigan panel in July 2017. “I can’t go back. I can (only) go forward. You will never see me again (if paroled).”
Wershe, who gained notoriety during Detroit's crack cocaine epidemic, was convicted in 1988 of manufacturing/possession with intent to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine.
A movie about Wershe's life appeared on the big screen in September and starred Matthew McConaughey.
Authorities say he rose to become a ranking drug lord in one of Detroit's roughest neighborhoods more than three decades ago. But his supporters, his lawyers and retired FBI agents say he was nothing more than an informant who helped to put away the city's most notorious drug kingpins.
Wershe, called “Ricky” by neighborhood pals, was a baby-faced teen who moved easily among other high-profile street drug dealers, mostly African-Americans, on the city’s east side.
But his attorney. Ralph Musilli, has said Wershe was barely out of puberty when he was pushed into the drug underworld by federal agents and police to infiltrate some of the city’s most prolific and dangerous drug cartels. Musilli said Wershe was a paid FBI informant who shared a government informant identification number with his now-deceased father, Richard Wershe Sr.
“He could get in and out of (drug houses),” Musilli said. “Police would drop him off at them.”
Wershe's dad, who owned a gun shop on the city’s east side, was a small-time arms dealer who also made money on the side by selling information about neighborhood crooks and drug dealers to federal agents. The elder Wershe ended up introducing his young son to the informant business, according to Musilli.
Wershe’s mom, Darlene McCormick, said her son’s troubles began after she let his father take him back to the old neighborhood on Hampshire near Dickerson on the city’s east side.
“I should have not let him go live with his father,” said McCormick, who said her son was OK when he lived with her in the suburbs.
In 1987, when Wershe was arrested, he had 9,000 grams of cocaine and $30,000 in cash on him.
By that time, Wershe, who was 17, was a father to two young daughters. His youngest child, a son, would be born shortly after he was incarcerated.
Wershe told The News during a phone interview in February 2017 from a Michigan prison that he regrets the time behind bars has robbed him of his ability to be a father to his three children, then ages 29-32. He also has six grandchildren.
“It’s been heartbreaking,” Wershe said. “I was never there (as) a parent for them.”