'White Boy Rick' denied early release in Florida

Staff and wire reports
Rick Wershe Jr. sits in a courtroom at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit. Sept. 4, 2015.

Richard Wershe Jr. will be staying behind bars longer than he had hoped.

A Florida clemency board has denied an early prison release for the man known as “White Boy Rick,” once one of the FBI’s youngest informants and the subject of a recent Hollywood movie.

The Executive Clemency Board sent a letter to Wershe’s attorney, saying it has denied the request for a commuted sentence.

The letter, sent two weeks ago, didn’t state a reason.

The 49-year-old was paroled in Michigan in 2017 after serving three decades behind bars on drug charges but he was sent to Florida to serve time for a 2006 conviction stemming from his role in a car theft ring.

The Florida Department of Corrections now lists his release date as Oct. 26, 2020. That’s earlier than the Nov. 25, 2020, release date announced late last year.

The trick was getting him paroled here in Michigan,” his longtime lawyer Ralph Musilli said. “He was an afterthought to those in Florida who just thought he was a part of a stolen car ring ... .”

Wershe had been set to be released from Putnam Correctional Institution in East Palatka, Florida, on April 20, 2021, but the date was moved up for good behavior, officials said.

“So, right now he’s finishing up his five-year sentence that was set to run consecutive here in Michigan," Musilli said. "Once we got him paroled in Michigan in August 2017, we started down there. He was just beginning his sentence in Florida and he’s set to be out in September or October of next year. If he gets good time, he’ll be out in late June, early July next year.”

Wershe was convicted in 1988 of manufacturing/possession with intent to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine. Authorities say he rose to become a ranking drug lord in one of Detroit's roughest neighborhoods, but his supporters, lawyers and retired FBI agents say he was an informant who helped to put away the city's most notorious drug kingpins.

His lawyer hinted at what might be to come.

“He’s been in jail for 15 years on a five-year sentence," Musilli said. "I think they might request work release, which will be good for him because he’s been cruising careers.”

A movie about Wershe's life appeared on the big screen in September and starred Matthew McConaughey.

Detroit News Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Sarah Rahal, and the Associated Press contributed.