Column: The Michigan Parole Board’s Crime Against “White Boy Rick”
DETROIT -- The criminal case against Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr. played out during the late 1980s, when he was a teenager and the drug-trade in Detroit was so high-profile that some dealers were household names. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking.
Today, 26 years later, another crime is being committed, this time by the Michigan Parole Board: It’s keeping Wershe behind bars. No Boy Scout on the streets, Wershe trafficked cocaine. But 26 years in prison? That’s more than sufficient punishment, and more to the point, gravely unjust for someone convicted as a teen. Even a recent Supreme Court ruling surprisingly showed compassion for teens who commit murder, something Wershe has never been accused of.
For years now, FBI agents and federal prosecutors — and even Kid Rock — have pushed for Wershe’s release. They have stepped forward because Wershe, now 44, helped the feds put away plenty dope dealers, and played a critical role in setting up a sting in the early 1990s that nabbed crooked Detroit and suburban cops, along with Mayor Coleman Young’s common-law brother-in-law, Willie Volsan.
But some local law enforcement types — including some who really had no clue as to Wershe’s activities on the streets– came to his parole hearing in 2003 and successfully torpedoed his chance for freedom, painting him as a far bigger player in the dope game than he actually was, and blaming him for playing a major role in destroying the moral fabric of Detroit. One of the Detroit detectives who testified against Wershe was later charged with drug trafficking and mortgage fraud.
“I think it’s ridiculous what we’ve done,” Robert S. Aguirre, a former member of the state parole board, said of Wershe’s 2 1/2 decades of imprisonment. “It’s wrong.”
Aguirre is the latest to join in the “Free Wershe” campaign. He served on the state parole board from 2009 to 2011 and previously worked as a Flint cop and Genesee County sheriff’s deputy, then ran a community corrections program in Lapeer County.
While sitting on the parole board, Aguirre took an interest in the Wershe case and pushed for a parole hearing. But he wasn’t able to muster up enough votes to get one. He said Wershe’s reputation had far surpassed reality, and that hurt him
He says “White Boy Rick” was “synonymous with everything bad in the mid-1980s.
“He was just a kid,” Aguirre said.
Gregg Schwarz, a retired FBI agent who worked Detroit drug cases in the 1980s and has been pushing for years for Wershe’s release, echoes similar sentiments: “This is a kid who tried to become a big deal but he never made it. He didn’t have anyone working for him.
“Now the parole board says he might still be a danger to society. Based on what? Was he ever arrested with a gun? No. Did he ever kill anybody? No. Did he ever assist the FBI and other local agencies? Yes.”
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