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September 2022


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Excerpt From Investigative Reporter Dan Moldea’s Book: ‘Hollywood Confidential’

A specialist on organized-crime investigations since 1974, best-selling author and independent investigative journalist Dan E. Moldea has published seven nonfiction books including, “The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob.” This excerpt is being published with permission.


“Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown”

By Dan E. Moldea

I didn’t see the minefield ahead.

On April 12, 2002, Anita Busch sent an email, asking me for a favor. She wanted me to collect three articles that Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times had written about one-time Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, two from 1996 and the third from 1999. She provided no explanation, and I didn’t need any. I just did what she asked. Later that day, I sent Anita two of the three articles that she had requested, along with six other stories in which Weinraub had discussed Ovitz. At the time of her email to me, Anita was freelancing for the New York Times. She and Weinraub were in the midst of what would become a seven-part series which began on March 22 about Ovitz and his latest business venture, the Artists Management Group, a broadly based management company for those involved in film and television productions. The two reporters alleged that Ovitz had engaged in financial mismanagement, based on a recent audit of the company’s records.

The final part of their series appeared in the newspaper on May 7.1 The day before that final installation, Anita and Weinraub published a story about Ovitz, “A Faded Hollywood Power Broker Relinquishes His Talent Business,” which seemingly added insult to injury: Even by the turbulent and often cruel standards of Hollywood, Mr. Ovitz’s downfall has been startling. As a founder of the Creative Artists Agency, he emerged as a strong-willed and intimidating figure who sought to inspire fear, and succeeded. But Mr. Ovitz, who is 55, has seen his career fall into a downward spiral since 1997 when he was fired as president of the Walt Disney Company.

Today, Mr. Ovitz reached one of the lowest points in his career. He agreed for a company called The Firm to acquire the major units of his current company, the Artists Management Group. . . . For Mr. Ovitz, the deal is a serious financial and personal blow. 2 In lieu of continuing to freelance for the New York Times and other publications upon the completion of her work on Ovitz, Anita accepted a job on or about May 21, working under contract for the Los Angeles Times. On June 3, her first day with the newspaper, Hollywood legend Lew Wasserman, the retired chairman of MCA, died. As part of her research, she called me to discuss my third book, Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob, in which Wasserman was a major character. In that 1986 work, I concentrated on MCA, a powerful Hollywood corporation, and its fiftyyear relationship with President Reagan who was in the midst of his second term in office.

During the next two years, I watched the Reagan Justice Department, specifically the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, kill a federal investigation of MCA, as well as another broader probe of the Mafia’s penetration of the motion-picture industry. With life imitating art, these cases were embodiments of the dramatic conclusion of the 1974 film, Chinatown, in which wealthy powerbrokers used their influence with the law-enforcement community to evade responsibility for their roles in major crimes. In fact, one federal prosecutor placed a fine point on this analogy when—after hearing of my frustrations with reporting on the aborted MCA case—he told me, “Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown.” The newspaper’s obituary of Wasserman the following day referred to my work.

Dan Moldea (Photo credit: E. Ethelbert Miller)

On June 4, federal prosecutors indicted Julius “Jules” Nasso, along with sixteen reputed members of New York’s Carlo Gambino crime family as part of a major 68-count conspiracy case.

Nasso had been the business partner of motion-picture star Steven Seagal, whose popular action-adventure films included Above the Law, Out for Justice, and Under Siege. In effect, Anita, who usually covered show business, was now investigating the Mafia. Her partner for this investigation was Paul Lieberman, a respected veteran investigative reporter who worked in the New York bureau of the Los Angeles Times. The first Busch-Lieberman story appeared on June 5, stating: Nasso, 49, of Staten Island, was charged with two counts, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry.

Although prosecutors did not identify the extortion target in the indictment, Nasso’s lawyer said after court that Seagal is the film figure. “It’s definitely Steven Seagal,” said Nasso’s lead attorney, Barry Levin. “Steven Seagal has been seen talking to the grand jury.” Nasso had a 15-year business relationship with Seagal until a bitter falling-out. In March, Nasso filed a $60-million lawsuit against the actor, alleging the star of such films as Under Siege had backed out of a contract to perform in four movies. The two have not spoken in more than a year.”

In her follow-up article the next day, Anita, without the participation of Lieberman, wrote: “The alleged extortion attempt was caught on FBI wiretaps. The wiretaps recorded a conversation between Nasso and Gambino associate Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone in which Ciccone 3 allegedly chastised Nasso for trying to share some of the extorted money with others without ‘prior approval.’”

Anita and Lieberman co-authored a third story on June 12, adding: “The Mafia captain who rules the Staten Island waterfront threatened to kill an entertainment figure, identified previously as actor Steven Seagal, as part of a multimillion-dollar extortion scene. . . . “Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone ‘demanded millions of dollars from this individual and threatened his life,’ Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Genser said at a court hearing for the accused Gambino family docks boss.”6 However, Anita did not appear to trust her partner. In her personal notes, she wrote: I am sharing information with the reporter I’m working with, Paul Lieberman. But something doesn’t smell right. Lieberman is too close to these guys, I believe. He’s going out drinking with them.

Read more »

Joe Rannazzisi, Retired DEA Official, Named Fed of The Year for 2017

Joe Rannazzisi (Photo grab from 60 Minutes)

By Allan Lengel

For the first time since the awards were given in 2008, a former, rather than current federal law enforcement official has been named Fed of the Year.

Joe Rannazzisi, a retired DEA deputy assistant administrator with a law degree and a pharmacy degree, has been named Fed of the Year for 2017, the result of his persistent and ongoing crusade against dangerous opioids and his criticism of Congress for protecting manufacturers.

As head of the Office of Diversion Control for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he led the crusade to clamp down on doctors, pharmacies, drug manufacturers and distributors.

He was aggressive, resulting in some of the biggest companies paying huge fines for failing to report suspicious orders. Not everyone was pleased.

He clashed with Congress, which he felt wasn’t being tough enough on drug companies. Some Congress members came after him, and in 2015, under pressure, he retired.

But that didn’t stop him from speaking out.

In October, he appeared in the Washington Post and on “60 Minutes” to tell his story how the DEA’s war on opioids got derailed by pressure from Congress and the drug industry.

He’s also a consultant for a team of lawyers suing the opioid industry.

His efforts in the battle against the opioid epidemic, particularly in light of the powerful opposition on Capitol Hill and from the drug industry, makes him worthy of the award, which is based on outstanding public service.

Previous recipients of the Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014); John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015) and D.C.  U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips (2016).


Book Excerpt: The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets

Before Edward Snowden’s infamous data breach, the largest theft of government secrets was committed by an ingenious traitor whose intricate espionage scheme and complex system of coded messages were made even more baffling by his dyslexia. His name is Brian Regan, but he came to be known as The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell. The hunt that led to Regan’s arrest began in December 2000 when the FBI was tipped off to an anonymous package mailed to the Libyan consulate in New York. The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book, “The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.”  Reprinted by arrangement with NAL, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.  Links to purchase the book are at the end of the excerpt.

 By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

On the morning of the first Monday in December 2000, FBI Special Agent Steven Carr hurried out of his cubicle at the bureau’s Washington, D.C. field office and bounded down two flights of stairs to pick up a package that had just arrived by FedEX from FBI New York. Carr was 38 years old, of medium build, with blue eyes and a handsome face. He was thoughtful and intense, meticulous in his work, driven by a sense of patriotic duty inherited from his father – who served in World War II – and his maternal and paternal grandfathers – who both fought in World War I. Because of his aptitude for deduction and his intellectual doggedness, he’d been assigned to counterintelligence within a year after coming to the FBI in 1995. In his time at the bureau – all of it spent in the nation’s capital – he had played a supporting role in a series of high profile espionage cases, helping to investigate spies such as Jim Nicholson, the flamboyant CIA agent who sold U.S. secrets to the Russians.


But like most agents starting out in their careers, Carr was keen to lead a high stakes investigation himself. A devout Catholic, Carr would sometimes bow his head in church and say a silent prayer requesting the divine’s help in landing a good case. That’s why he had responded with such alacrity when his squad supervisor, Lydia Jechorek, had asked him to pick up the package that morning. “Whatever it is, it’s yours,” she had said.

Carr raced back to his desk and laid out the contents of the package in front of him: a sheaf of papers running into a few dozen pages. They were from three envelopes that had been handed to FBI New York by a confidential informant at the Libyan consulate in New York. The envelopes had been individually mailed to the consulate by an unknown sender.

Breathlessly, Carr thumbed through the sheets. Based on directions sent from New York, he was able to sort the papers into three sets corresponding to the three envelopes. All three had an identical cover sheet, at the top of which was a warning in all caps. “THIS LETTER CONTAINS SENSITIVE INFORMATION.” Below, it read, in part:

“This letter is confidential and directed to your President or Intelligence Chief. Please pass this letter via diplomatic pouch and do not discuss the existence of this letter in your offices or homes or via any electronic means. If you do not follow these instructions the existence of this letter and its contents may be detected and collected by U.S. intelligence agencies.”

In the first envelope was a 4-page letter with 149 lines of typed text consisting of alphabets and numbers. The second envelope included instructions on how to decode the letter. The third envelope included two sets of code sheets. One set contained a list of ciphers. The other, running to six pages, listed dozens of words along with their encoded abbreviations: a system commonly known as brevity codes. Together, the two sets were meant to serve as the key for the decryption.

Carr flipped through the letter, skimming the alphanumeric sequence. It looked like gibberish, like text you might get if you left a curious monkey in front of a keyboard. There was no way to make sense of it without the code sheets and the decoding instructions. By mailing the three separately, the sender had sought to secure the communication against the possibility that one envelope might get intercepted by a U.S. intelligence agency. Carr saw that the sender had included a message in typed, plain text in each envelope, informing the consulate of the other two envelopes in the mail and instructing the receiver of the message to place a car ad in the Washington Post if any of the other envelopes failed to arrive. The sender had not anticipated that all three envelopes could fall into the FBI’s hands.

FBI New York had already decoded a few lines of the letter. Carr’s pulse quickened further as he read the deciphered text.

“I am a Middle East North African analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. I am willing to commit espionage against the U.S. by providing your country with highly classified information. I have a top secret clearance and have access to documents of all of the U.S. intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Central Command (CENTCOM) as well as smaller agencies.”

To prove that this wasn’t a bluff, the sender had included in all three envelopes an identical set of government documents, 23 pages in all, some marked “CLASSIFIED SECRET,” some “CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET.” Most of them were aerial images taken by U.S. spy satellites, showing military sites in the Middle East and other parts of the world: air defense systems, weapons depots, munitions factories, underground bunkers. Some of the documents were intelligence reports about regimes and militaries in the Middle East. It was evident from the markings on these images and reports that they had been printed after being downloaded from Intel Link, a classified network of servers that constituted the intelligence community’s Internet.

There were some additional documents. One was a monthly newsletter of the CIA, circulated internally among agency employees.  Another was the table of contents of the Joint Service Tactical Exploitation of National Systems, a classified manual to help the U.S. warfighter take advantage of the country’s reconnaissance satellites and other intelligence-gathering technologies. The manual had been compromised before by another spy – an NSA cryptologist named David Sheldon Boone, who had sold it to the Soviet Union a decade earlier. In the years since, as the United States reconnaissance capabilities had evolved, the manual had been updated a number of times. The table of contents the sender had included in the package were from the manual’s most recent version. It would be valuable even to an adversary already in possession of the JTENS that Boone had given away.

Also among the documents were aerial photographs of Gaddafi’s yacht in the Mediterranean Ocean. They had been taken from a low-flying aircraft deployed not by the United States but by a foreign intelligence service. How the sender of the package could have acquired them was unclear.

Carr studied the pages in stunned silence, oblivious to the comings and goings of colleagues around him. He had never seen anything like this before. Since joining the squad, he had followed up on dozens of letters tipping the FBI off to potential espionage. Most came from anonymous sources at U.S. intelligence agencies accusing a co-worker or colleague of being a spy. Rarely did such “point and pin” letters lead to the discovery of a real threat: more often than not, they turned out to be a case of erroneous judgment by the tipster, or a case of bitter workplace jealousy.

What Carr had in front of him seemed anything but a false alarm. The sender of the envelopes was no doubt a bona fide member of the U.S. intelligence community, with access to “top secret” documents, intent on establishing a clandestine relationship with a foreign intelligence service. The person had, in fact, already committed espionage by giving classified information to an enemy country. Carr might as well have been looking at a warning sign for a national security threat flashing in neon red.

The book can be purchased at, Indiebound and Barnes and Noble.

Book Excerpt: ‘Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran’

Ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson became a private investigator. He also had another life —  a consultant for the C.I.A. In 2007, Levinson, then 59, disappeared on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. He has been missing ever since. Barry Meier, a veteran New York Times reporter, has written a compelling book on the case. The following is an excerpt.

November 13, 2010, Gulf Breeze, Florida

By Barry Meier

Rain splattered against the windshield of her silver- gray BMW as Sonya Dobbs pulled up to a security gate blocking the street. It wasn’t much of a gate, at least by Florida standards, just a long, rolling fence stretching across a road. She punched a code into the gate’s keypad.

After two unsuccessful tries, she used her cell phone to call her boss, David McGee, who opened the gate from inside his house. It slid back and Sonya drove through, a laptop resting on the passenger seat.
Sonya’s Saturday night had started very differently.

missingman (1) (1)

She had planned to spend it sorting through photographs. Sonya worked as Dave’s para legal at a large law firm called Beggs & Lane located in Pensacola, a city at the western end of Florida’s Panhandle, the narrow, two- hundred- mile- long coastal strip tucked between the Gulf of Mexico and the states of Alabama and Georgia.

Sonya wanted to carve out a second career as a photographer, and she had been on a chase boat the previous day in Pensacola Bay, snapping pictures of a new oceangoing tugboat, christened Freedom, as it went through test maneuvers. The photos showed the big black and gray tug slicing through the foamy water under a blue sky filled with white, puffy clouds. A maker of some of the boat’s parts had ordered pictures, and Sonya was happily spending her Saturday evening playing with different ways to crop the images.

Then the phone rang, and she heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Over the past three years, she had spoken to Ira Silverman hundreds of times, if she had to guess. Most days, the retired televi sion newsman phoned Dave at least once.

Their conversations were always about a mutual friend, Robert Levinson, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned private investigator. Sonya had never met him, though she felt as if she had.
Bob disappeared in 2007 while on a trip to Iran. Dave and Ira, who had both known Bob for years, were trying to help his desperate family find him. Months after the investigator went missing, Dave convinced Bob’s wife, Christine, to ship his work files to Beggs & Lane. Sonya had read through them and or ga nized the reports. She was a natural snoop, at ease with computers. Before long, she had tracked down Bob’s email accounts and figured out the passwords.

Robert Levinson

Robert Levinson

As she walked through the record of his life, she learned a secret that Dave, Ira, and Chris already knew: the explanation that U.S. government officials were giving out publicly to explain Bob’s reason for visiting Iran wasn’t true, at least not the part that really mattered.

Since the investigator’s disappearance, there had been reported sightings of him in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the notorious jail where political dissidents are tortured or killed. Some tipsters had come forward
to claim that the Revolutionary Guards, the elite military force aligned with Iran’s Islamic religious leaders, were holding him at a secret detention center. His family had made public pleas for information about him, and the FBI had assigned agents to the search.

But the hunt for the missing man had gone nowhere.

Ira’s call was about an email he had gotten earlier that Saturday containing a message that read like a ransom note. He had received similar emails before and had passed them on to the FBI. But this one
wasn’t like the others. This email had a file attached to it. Ira told Sonya he couldn’t figure out how to open the attachment and was forwarding it to her to see if she could. The email read: This is a serious message
Until this time we have prepared a good situation for Bob and he is in good health. we announce for the last ultimatum that his life is based on and related to you You should pay 3000000$ (in cash) and release our friends: Salem Mohamad Ahmad Ghasem, Ahmad Ali Alarzagh, Ebrahim Ali Ahmad.


We are waiting for your positive answer without any preconditions. We would announce our way to receive the money. Sonya clicked on the email’s attachment, but nothing happened. She didn’t recognize the file’s extension, the three- letter code that tells a computer which program is needed to open a file. She suspected the extension—.flv— signified it was a video file, and she hunted around on the Internet for information about a recommended player.

Finding one, she downloaded the software and clicked again on the attachment. This time, the file launched and a man’s gaunt face appeared, seemingly staring out at her. He had closely shorn gray hair,
a moustache, and sunken cheeks covered by stubble. He started speaking in a deep, raspy voice. Strange music played in the background, rhythmic instruments accompanied by a singer’s droning call.

After a few seconds, the camera pulled back and Sonya could see that the man was sitting in front of a gray stone wall in what appeared to be a stark prison cell. The polo shirt he wore looked threadbare and hung on his frame as though it was several sizes too big for him. Part of the shirt’s right sleeve was gone. There was nothing immediately threatening about the video. Masked jihadists weren’t standing over the man brandishing guns or swords, and there wasn’t a black political banner hanging behind him. Still, the video was disquieting.

The man’s arms didn’t move as he spoke, suggesting that his hands, which couldn’t be seen in the video, might be lying manacled in his lap. He struggled to stay calm and to keep his words mea sured.

Occasionally, his voice came close to breaking and he would briefly close his eyes, pause, or gesture by turning his head.

He said: For my beau— my beautiful, my loving, my loyal wife, Christine  .  .  .and my children . . . and my grandson . . . and also for the United States government . . . I have been held here for three and a half years . . . I am not in very good health  .  .  . I am running  .  .  . very quickly out of diabetes medicine . . . I have been treated . . . well . . . but I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three and a half years . . . And please help me . . . get home . . .
Thirty- three years of ser vice to the United States deserves something . . . Please help me.

Dave McGee opened his front door and ushered Sonya out of the rain. They went into the kitchen, where the lawyer’s wife, Joyce, was waiting. Sonya put her laptop on the table, opened it, and launched
the video. Dave wasn’t positive that Bob was the man on the tape.

The last time he had seen the former FBI agent, he resembled a big, overweight teddy bear with a mop of hair. The man on the tape was so thin that the skin on his throat sagged. Dave realized that the only
way to know for sure was to call Christine. Sonya dialed her number, and when Chris answered, she put her cell phone next to the computer and clicked on the video. A few moments passed.

“That’s Bob’s voice,” Chris said. “That’s Bob.”

Since the appearance of the 2010 video and some photographs that followed, Bob Levinson has not been seen alive. His fate is unknown. The Iranian government continues to claim that it knows nothing about his him.The Obama Administration, despite having evidence pointing to Iran’s likely role, has yet to publicly confront Tehran. 

Excerpted from “Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran” by Barry Meier, published May 3 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. You can purchase the book by clicking here , at book stores or Amazon.

Nine Years Later, Ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson Still Missing After Visiting Iran

Robert Levinson

Robert Levinson

By Allan Lengel

This past Wednesday marked the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of  ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished after going to Iran. In hopes of keeping the issue at the forefront, the White House, State Department, FBI and family issued statements this week.

“Bob’s wife, children, and grandchildren have waited nine long years for the release of their loved one. Nine years is an incomprehensible amount of time for him to be missing without any word of his whereabouts,” FBI Director James B. Comey said in a statement. “The FBI family feels personally connected to ensuring Bob’s safe return and we are doing everything in our power to investigate all leads.”

In 2013,  the Levinson family acknowledged he was actually working as a freelance “spy” for a rogue CIA operation. The Iranian press initially reported after his disappearance that he was being held by Iranian authorities, but since then, the Iranian government has denied even knowing his whereabouts.  Some are skeptical of that, and some have wondered whether he’s still alive.

Still, the FBI has been operating under the assumption that he is still alive.

Levinson’s wife, Christine, issued a statement:

A few days ago, hundreds of people from around the country came together with our family in Florida to demand “Where is Bob Levinson?”  and ask how it is possible that, 9 years after being taken hostage in Iran, this wonderful man is still not home.  My children and I ask those same questions every day.

These past 9 years – 3, 288 days – have been harder for our family than anyone could ever imagine.  But, as difficult as it has been for us, we know that Bob is living a nightmare that is 100 times worse.  We need the United States government and the country of Iran to work together to resolve what happened to Bob and return him safely to his family.

The White House said:

“Today marks the ninth year since retired FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared during a trip to Kish Island, Iran. We continue to call upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to provide assistance in his case, as agreed to as part of the prisoner exchange finalized earlier this year, so that we can bring Mr. Levinson home.

“Finding Mr. Levinson remains a top priority for the United States, and we continue to spare no effort to bring him home. Today the United States renews its unrelenting commitment to securing Mr. Levinson’s return. Our hearts remain with the Levinson family. They have endured the pain and suffering of his disappearance for far too long.”

And Secretary of State John Kerry said:

On the anniversary today of Robert Levinson’s disappearance from Kish Island, Iran, nine years ago, I want to underscore our commitment to locate Bob and bring him home.

For almost a decade, a beloved husband, brother, father, and grandfather has been kept from celebrating family milestones most take for granted. No one should have to endure what Mr. Levinson and his family have endured for so long.

As the President has said, and as I have told the Levinson family when I have met with them, we will never forget Bob, and we will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again.

The U.S. government in its entirety will continue all efforts to locate Bob and bring him home. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson, and we are holding Iran to its promise.

In March 2015, the FBI also announced a $5 million reward for any information that could lead to his safe return. We call on anyone with information about this case to contact the FBI at or email the FBI at

Information will be kept confidential and can be provided anonymously.


DEA’s John ‘Jack’ Riley Named’s Fed of The Year For 2015

John "Jack" Riley

John “Jack” Riley

By Allan Lengel

John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator, has been named’s Fed of the Year for 2015.

Riley, a native of Chicago with more than 25 years of drug law enforcement experience, was appointed the acting second-in-command of the DEA in April as the top administrator, Michele Leonhart, was stepping down.

Riley has stepped into a top leadership role — no easy task — and deserves  credit for working on getting the agency back on track, while providing guidance to the new interim director, an outsider from the FBI, Chuck Rosenberg.  Along the way, he’s made some tough decisions, which hasn’t pleased everyone inside the DEA.

The grandson of a Chicago cop, he headed up the Chicago and El Paso field offices, and has spent years investigating the Mexican cartels and the trafficking of heroin and cocaine across the southern border.

The man is old school. He’s got it out for Mexican drug lord  Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, chief of the murderous Sinaloa Cartel, who escaped from a Mexican prison earlier this year. Riley was once the target of an assassination plot by El Chapo’s operatives.

“Just so you know, I was going to retire — until this dick escaped,” Riley told Yahoo! News in September, adding:  “I’m in it for the long haul.”

Previous recipients of the Fed of the Year award include: Former Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014).

The “Political Corruption” Behind the Imprisonment of Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr.

This Michigan Department of Corrections record shows his earliest  and latest release dates as never at the bottom right.

. Vince Wade is a former investigative reporter for WXYZ and Fox 2. He now lives in California and runs Informant America, described as ” a blog about the shadowy world of law enforcement informants with particular focus on . . . Richard Wershe, Jr.” This investigative story is republished with permission. It is part of an ongoing series on Wershe.


By Vince Wade

The story of Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, Jr. is an epic tale, sprawling and complex. It is a challenge to keep the story straight because there are so many players, so many events. It is a challenge to tell you about it.

It is much more than a story about a white teenage dope dealer in the black underworld. It is every bit as much a tale about police criminality, political corruption and what appears to be a decades-long vendetta, a dark and chilling conspiracy within the criminal justice system against a teenager who dared to help the FBI put politically-connected dope dealers and corrupt cops in jail.

It appears to be an organized violation of one man’s civil rights over his entire adult life. There are dozens of important events and hundreds of characters in this story.

Two key episodes were Wershe’s 1988 drug trial and his 2003 parole hearing. This lengthy blog post touches on both. Those bothered by how long it takes to read this should remember Rick Wershe has lived with all of this every day, 24/7, in an 8 X 12 prison cell for the past 27 years.

Featured_screen_shot_2015-09-11_at_10.39.42_pm_18471Ricahrd Wershe Jr. in court Sept. 4

A fierce, fast-moving battle of legal briefs is now being fought in the Michigan Court of Appeals over the re-sentencing of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. who is serving a life prison term for dealing drugs. Hitman murderers, serial rapists and habitual child molesters have been let out of prison by the Michigan Parole Board during the nearly three decades Rick Wershe has been kept behind bars. Others convicted of selling far more dope than Wershe ever saw in his life have been in and out  of Michigan prisons during his time behind bars.

Many Detroit news organizations have been wrong in their reporting dating back to when Wershe was convicted. Last Friday, for instance, two Detroit TV stations reported a Court of Appeals-ordered postponement of Wershe’s re-sentencing was a setback for Wershe. That is wrong. All parties agreed to the delay and Wershe’s defense team breathed a sigh of relief that the fast-moving court battle had slowed to give them time to hone their legal briefs.

The entire basis for demanding that Wershe remain in prison is the claim that his drug crimes were so vast, so deadly, that he poses a menace to society. If that claim can be shown to be false, there is no evidentiary basis, no factual basis for keeping Wershe in prison one more day.

Mike Duggan’s Letter

There are thousands of pages of documents related to Richard J. Wershe Jr., also known as White Boy Rick, in the files of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The most damning by far is a letter from former Wayne County, Michigan prosecutor Mike Duggan to the Michigan Parole Board. Duggan is now the Mayor of the City of Detroit. In that letter Duggan urges the Parole Board to keep Wershe in prison until he dies. The Feb. 17, 2003 letter is dated several weeks ahead of Wershe’s one and only parole hearing since he was sentenced to mandatory life in 1988 for possession of eight kilos of cocaine.

The law was later changed to life with the possibility of parole.

Featured_whiteboyrick_8100Richard Wershe as a teen and now.

The three-page letter purportedly written by Duggan contains serious allegations in stunningly harsh language about the crimes and misdeeds of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. The use of the word “purportedly” will be clear later in this article.

In Michigan politics and in its courts, the name Mike Duggan has marquee value. He made a name for himself as the number two man to Ed McNamara, the late Wayne County Executive. McNamara was an old-school machine politics boss and he taught Duggan how to use the levers of power.

In 2000 Duggan was elected Wayne County prosecutor. Duggan’s reputation as a politician of action got him elected in 2013 as Detroit’s first white mayor since Roman Gribbs in the 1970s.

Then, as now, the Duggan letter to the Parole Board about Wershe carried a lot of weight. When the letter was written, Duggan was the prosecutor of the most populous county in Michigan, the county dominated by the City of Detroit. Today, he’s the Mayor of the City of Detroit, always a powerful office in Michigan politics.

When Rick Wershe’s attorney, Ralph Musilli, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Grand Rapids claiming the Parole Board violated Wershe’s Eight Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, the Michigan Attorney General’s office filed a response brief in behalf of the State Parole Board.

That brief only had a few attachments or exhibits even though there are 11 pounds of documents in the Department of Corrections Wershe file. (I have copies of all 11 pounds.) One of the exhibits from the Wershe file selected by the Michigan Attorney General to persuade the federal court judge that Wershe should remain in prison was the Duggan letter. The state attorney general’s office obviously believes the name Mike Duggan, ex-Prosecutor-now-Mayor of the City of Detroit, has marquee value even in a federal court on the western side of the state.

Public Records Request

To fully understand the saga of Richard J. Wershe, Jr., I decided I needed to learn details of the incendiary, over-the-top allegations in the Duggan/Wershe letter. I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. I cited the main Duggan letter allegations, paragraph by paragraph, and requested copies of all law enforcement/prosecution documentation supporting the claims and assertions in the Duggan letter.

My request was denied because there is no supporting documentation.

Current Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy is fighting a judge’s decision that Wershe should be re-sentenced, even though her office doesn’t have any documentation to support claims that he shouldn’t be released because he poses a danger to the community.

The judge, Dana M. Hathaway, wants to limit the Wershe re-sentencing issue to the applicable law. She doesn’t want an evidentiary hearing with witness testimony. That’s a pity. The treatment of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is a travesty of justice, a violation of his Constitutional Eighth Amendment right prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. If the Wayne County Prosecutor wants to fight to keep this man in prison for his entire life, she should be forced to produce documentation and witnesses in support of her case. Rick Wershe needs to be re-sentenced, but the truth should be in focus. The truth needs to be put on the record in a court of law to clear the name of a man who has been vilified for years.

The Letter

Let’s get back to the Duggan letter.

I’ll begin with a portion of the letter’s first paragraph, which summarizes Duggan’s opinion of Wershe. The Duggan letter contains occasional use of bold text in the first paragraph as reproduced below.

“For the record, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office continues to be vehemently opposed to any parole of Richard Wershe, Jr. The previous Prosecuting Attorney John D. O’Hair was strongly opposed to any consideration of parole for this inmate, and I continue with my absolute opposition to any such consideration. This is one inmate that needs to remain in prison for his entire life.”

The second paragraph of Duggan’s letter launches in to allegations against Wershe. I’ve broken it down in a three-part format. To follow are the key allegations about Richard J. Wershe, Jr. from the Duggan letter to the Parole Board, followed by my FOIA request to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in italics, followed by the response from the office of current prosecutor Kym Worthy in bold text. The reason for the FOIA denial is repeated after each allegation in the Duggan letter for emphasis and is not a feature of the FOIA denial.

“Wershe had 17.5 pounds or approximately eight kilos of cocaine that was taken to the next door neighbor’s house by David Golley, and placed under their porch.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any police reports, witness statements, police lab fingerprint reports or any other documentation that is the basis for Prosecutor Duggan’s assertion that Mr. Wershe “had” the cocaine Mr. Golley allegedly placed under a porch.” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. 

“From the records, it appears that Wershe’s gang and the police were contemporaneously looking for the cocaine up and down the street, both trying to find it first.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide copies of “the records” referenced in Mr. Duggan’s letter in which he states “it appears” that Wershe’s “gang” and the police were contemporaneously looking for the cocaine up and down the street…” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. 

(I asked for specifics twice in regard to the previous statement in the Duggan letter.)

In addition, in response to this Freedom of Information Act request please provide any police reports or any other documentation that is the basis for Prosecutor Duggan’s assertion about “Wershe’s gang.” As part of this response please provide documentation regarding the names or any other identifying information regarding Mr. Wershe’s alleged “gang.” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“There was a joint task force assigned to this case, tremendous public taxpayer-funded resources and personnel were expended to stop this ruthless drug dealer.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any and all documentation which supports Prosecutor Duggan’s claim that a ‘task force’ was assigned to the Richard Wershe, Jr. cocaine case of 1987 which was the basis for his subsequent conviction or any other documentation that is the basis for Mr. Duggan’s assertion that Mr. Wershe was the target of a ‘task force’ investigation.” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. (Bold text added.)

“Several of Wershe’s gang members were found dead.” —Duggan letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any and all documentation which supports Prosecutor Duggan’s claim that Wershe had a “gang” and that several “were found dead.” Please identify the deceased “gang” members that are the basis for former Prosecutor Duggan’s assertion.” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. (Bold text added.)

“Witnesses in inmate Wershe’s case just disappeared.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any and all documentation which supports Prosecutor Duggan’s claim that witnesses in the Wershe 1987 cocaine case ‘just disappeared.’” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Inmate Wershe is precisely the kind of drug dealer, gang leader, notorious violent kingpin that the over 650 g of controlled-substances-lifer law was written for, and meant to punish.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any and all law enforcement/prosecution documentation which supports Prosecutor Duggan’s assertion that Richard Wershe Jr. was a ‘gang leader’ and ‘violent kingpin.’” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Wershe’s violent collateral crimes and the sheer volume of controlled substances that were introduced to the City of Detroit confirm that Wershe is a serious danger to the People of the City of Detroit, and all of Southeastern Michigan, in particular.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide any and all documentation which supports Prosecutor Duggan’s assertion that Richard Wershe Jr. was involved in ‘violent collateral crimes.’ Please cite specific examples of Wershe’s ‘violent collateral crimes.’” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Wershe profited from the countless drug sales that his gang made, and the criminal enterprise that he built.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide documentation that Mr. Wershe was ever charged with a criminal conspiracy and/or operating a criminal enterprise as implied by former Prosecutor Duggan in his letter wherein he refers to Wershe’s ‘gang’ and ‘criminal enterprise.’” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“His family background does not suggest a likelihood of reform. The (Richard Wershe Jr.’s) father was believed to be an electronics technician for the Mafia.” —Duggan 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board regarding parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

“In response to this Freedom of Information Act request, please provide documentation and specifics that are the basis for stating ‘the father was believed’ to be a ‘technician for the Mafia.’” —Vince Wade Freedom of Information Act request.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist.” —FOIA response of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

What Isn’t There

Featured_worthy2mg_2792_4752Kym Worthy

Well now. Let’s review. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, the one who is fighting desperately to keep Rick Wershe in prison under a life sentence for a non-violent drug conviction, formally admits in a written response to my Michigan Freedom of Information Act request that “the records do not exist” for allegations that:

  • Rick Wershe actually “had” the drugs he was charged with possessing in his 1987 conviction
  • Wershe had a gang present at the time of his arrest
  • Authorities had the names of individuals allegedly involved in a Rick Wershe “gang”
  • There was a “task force” assigned specifically to the Rick Wershe investigation
  • Several Wershe “gang” members were found dead
  • Witnesses against Wershe “just disappeared”
  • Wershe was a “gang leader” and “violent kingpin”
  • Wershe was involved in ‘violent collateral crimes”
  • Wershe had a “gang” and/or a “criminal enterprise”
  • Wershe’s late father was a “technician” for the Mafiahat is the significance of this? Quite simply, it means the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office has said, in writing, they have no evidence, none, to support the urban legend that Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—“White Boy Rick”—was a “kingpin” and a “drug lord.” “We have determined and certify the records do not exist.”

Furthermore, they have no evidence, none according to their Freedom of Information Act response, to factually support their desperate fight to keep Wershe in prison as a danger to the community. “We have determined and certify the records do not exist.”

As reported in last week’s blog post, the animus of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office toward Richard J. Wershe, Jr. extends over the tenure of three prosecutors, beginning with the late John O’Hair who wanted Wershe’s cooperation in prosecuting a corrupt Detroit Police narcotics sergeant.

Wershe had been bribing the sergeant to prevent raids on his stash houses for drugs and cash. One of O’Hair’s assistant prosecutors met with Wershe in prison and told him the prosecutor’s office wanted him to fully cooperate in the case against the sergeant but they offered Wershe nothing in return on his life prison sentence. Wershe told him to buzz off and O’Hair was livid.

Long on Inuendo

In 2003, at Wershe’s one and only parole hearing the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office—Mike Duggan was prosecutor at that time—mounted a frantic effort to keep Wershe in jail. The prosecutor’s presentation to the parole board was long on innuendo and implied criminality but short on factual evidence. The few police investigative files given to the Parole Board do not come close to painting a picture of a major drug trafficker. The usual supporting police paper trail of a major conspiracy and of a coordinating key conspirator wasn’t there. It was a sign of things to come.

It defies belief and common sense to think the prosecutor’s office would matter-of-factly purge the archives of any real evidence they had against this inmate they made out to be a notch or two above Satan. If the Wayne County Prosecutor wanted to keep this guy in prison until he dies, common sense would tell us they would keep their evidence against him indefinitely and not purge it.

After more than a year of investigation I’m prepared to say the prosecution story line that Richard J. Wershe, Jr. “is a serious danger to the People of the City of Detroit, and all of Southeastern Michigan,” as the Duggan letter states, is a lie.

It’s a lie created by some in law enforcement who had it in for, and still have it in for, a teenager who was a recruited, trained and paid FBI informant from the age of 14 and who helped the FBI and U.S. Attorney prosecute important, politically-connected Detroit drug dealers and some of the cops they were paying off. As Wershe’s defense attorney Ralph Musilli puts it: “He cost some people a lot of money.”

Powerful Enemies

Wershe’s work as a confidential informant in Detroit’s drug underworld gained him two politically powerful enemies: Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and police executive and later city council president Gil Hill.

Mayor Coleman A. Young and Gill Hill

Wershe helped the FBI convict Willie Volsan, the mayor’s brother-in-law and while he was an undercover informant he tipped the FBI that the Curry Brothers dope gang had inadvertently killed a 13-year old boy named Damion Lucas in a drive-by shooting.

Wershe also advised the FBI he was riding in Johnny Curry’s car when Curry took a call on his car phone (cell phones weren’t in use in 1985) from Gil Hill. Curry put the phone on speaker mode and Wershe says he heard Hill reassure Curry that he would take care of the murder investigation and Curry shouldn’t worry. In fact, the homicide investigation tried to frame an innocent man named LaKeas Davis. Charges against Davis were eventually dropped. The Damion Lucas murder has never been prosecuted even though the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office knows who killed Damion Lucas.

From the time of the Damion Lucas murder forward, the FBI considered Gil Hill to be a prime target for investigation of obstruction of justice and police corruption amid allegations Curry had paid him $10,000 to draw the investigation of the little boy’s murder away from the Curry gang. Hill has never been charged and he has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Wershe aided the FBI in corruption and drug investigations linked to both Hill and Young. Wershe believes friends and allies of Young and Hill are behind a vendetta to this day to keep him in prison no matter what.

It is a known and provable fact that Rick Wershe continued to help the FBI prosecute drug dealers and police corruption—from prison.

Retired FBI agents who worked with Wershe in the 80s have tried to tell the Michigan Parole Board how helpful Rick Wershe has been in the “war on drugs.” No one on the parole board will listen, even though their own paperwork for his parole hearing states “there are no victims in this case.”

Gregg Schwarz

One of those retired FBI agents is Gregg Schwarz who worked with Wershe as an informant for a time. Schwarz has taken on the role of mentor and emotional lifeline for Wershe. Schwarz has talked with him by phone nearly every week for 27 years. Retired agent Schwarz will tell anyone who will listen, “Rick Wershe never had a gang, he never operated crack houses and he was never charged with a violent crime.” Schwarz is among those who suspect there is a conspiracy to keep Wershe behind bars.

Wershe was never charged by any law enforcement entity with conspiracy, which is a fundamental legal element when prosecuting a drug ring, he was never charged with racketeering and he was never charged with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the so-called “kingpin” statute in federal law.

Yet the Michigan Parole Board refuses to grant him parole.

This raises a question: are members of the Michigan Parole Board under the thumb of powerful people in Detroit who want Wershe to die in prison? Are they part of a conspiracy to deny Wershe his constitutional rights? How else to explain why the Board never questioned a series of amazing conflicts in law enforcement testimony at Wershe’s only parole hearing in 2003? There were three FBI agents testifying for his parole, there were two DEA agents testifying against his parole. Yet no one on the Parole Board asked why agents from two federal law enforcement agencies fighting the “war on drugs” were on opposite sides of parole for Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

White Boy Rick is not “innocent.” He’s not a choir boy. It’s true he got involved in the drug trade at the wholesale level, but his life sentence is totally out of sync with similar drug sentences at the federal level and state level in Michigan. After all these years, the only reasonable conclusion is the fight by the Wayne County Prosecutor to keep him in prison is part of a decades-long vendetta against a federal informant who helped bring down corruption in the criminal justice system of Detroit/Wayne County.

Unasked Questions 

The parole hearing included testimony from several high-ranking Detroit cops who had never encountered Rick Wershe in their police work but talked instead in generalities, saying, in effect, crime is bad, murders are bad. Their mere rank, however, had to impress some easily impressed parole board members. One can imagine a gullible Parole Board political hack thinking, ‘Gee! If this police big shot is taking the time to testify against him, Wershe must be a bad dude!’

Significantly, not one narc from the Detroit Police Department testified, yet they were the ones who arrested him in the case that was before the parole board. This was never questioned by the Parole Board or the reporters present.

Wershe’s former defense attorney, the late William E. Bufalino II testified at the parole hearing that he got a personal warning from Detroit Mayor Coleman Young about defending Rick Wershe.

“I was personally told by Coleman Young that this…’stay out of this. This is bigger than you think it is,’” Bufalino testified.

Bufalino’s explosive testimony didn’t stop there. “(But) the mayor’s office was bad, the prosecutor’s office was bad,” Bufalino told the Parole Board panel. These quotes are from an official transcript of the Wershe parole hearing.

The mayor’s office was “bad”? The prosecutor’s office was “bad”? What did he mean by that? This was a veteran Detroit criminal defense attorney making these charges. Corruption allegations swirled around the administration of Coleman Young for years. But what, specifically, was Bufalino talking about? What was the context of the warning from Coleman Young that ‘this is bigger than you think it is’? We will never know.

Bufalino also testified the prosecutor’s office was “bad.” Did he mean there was corruption in the prosecutor’s office? If so, how did it impact Rick Wershe? No one on the Parole Board, none of the reporters, asked him to explain what he meant. We can’t ask him now. Bufalino passed away. No one followed up on a dizzying array of loose ends in that hearing.

Gratitude Toward Wershe

Former Detroit FBI agent Mike Castro, now retired, worked undercover in a sting operation that resulted in a dozen cop convictions. Castro told me he owes his life to Rick because Wershe backed up his cover story at a point in the investigation where the federal agent’s life was on the line. From prison, Wershe reassured wary Detroit dope dealers and their corrupt cop friends that Castro, using the name Mike Diaz, was the real deal, one of Rick’s “connects” from Miami. Wershe convinced the bad guys that the undercover FBI agent could be trusted. Rick Wershe didn’t have to do that, but he did.

It can be argued that Rick Wershe should be given a good citizenship commendation, rather than have to live through one more day of slander against his name, one more day of mendacity in the criminal justice system aided and abetted by lazy and/or incompetent members of the news media who persist in describing him as a former drug lord and kingpin. It’s a lie they routinely reported and continue to report as fact without any evidence.

To this day some news organizations persist in describing Wershe as a drug-dealer-turned-informant. This is totally false and exactly backwards. Rick Wershe was recruited at age 14 and trained in the ways of the dope trade by members of the Detroit federal drug task force. He didn’t get in the dope business until law enforcement put him there. FBI agents weren’t the only ones who used Rick. Wershe says retired Detroit Police narc Billy Jasper, who was assigned to the federal drug task force, “burned up my pager” having him make drug buys in his role as a confidential informant.

Rick’s misadventure in the drug world happened by happenstance. Rick Wershe knew and was trusted by the Curry Brothers drug organization because to them he was just Ricky from the ‘hood.

Trying to Move Up

Around age 16, Wershe tried to become a “weight man” (narcotics wholesaler) after law enforcement suddenly abandoned him when they got what they needed from him in the investigation and prosecution of the Curry Brothers drug gang.

Wershe had dropped out of school to play the role the task force asked him to play and paid him to play. Wershe never became a drug addict but he admits he became addicted to the glitz and bling and cash. He became addicted to the fast cars, fast women and fast life of the drug underworld.

When he got caught and was facing life in prison, no one in the federal drug task force came to his defense. No one. To do so would have required them to publicly admit they had lured a 14-year old kid in to putting himself at grave risk to help them fight the “war on drugs.”

They let this kid they drew in to the drug underworld confront the criminal justice system all alone. Rather than admit what they had done to a juvenile, the Detroit federal drug task force let this young man be sentenced to life in prison. The Wayne County prosecutor is fighting and fighting hard to keep him there even though they admit they don’t have any evidence to support the myth that a 16-17 year-old white kid named Rick Wershe somehow ruled the deadly black drug trade in Detroit in the late 80s.

Guy In the Know

Nate “Boone” Craft, a convicted and paroled hit man from that era knows the true story of the streets in those days. Craft was a member of the Best Friends murder-for-hire crew. He said drug execution murders on the streets of Detroit in the late 80s eventually tapered off for a very simple reason.

Nate “Boone” Craft

“We damned near killed every goddamned body there was to be killed,” Craft once told an interviewer. “Those we didn’t kill ran and left the state. Those that didn’t left the state went to prison.”

Recently Craft told me the White Boy Rick myth is just that. A lie made up by law enforcement.

Craft laughs at the notion that this white kid with a peach-fuzz moustache was giving orders to black adult dope slingers. “He ain’t run us,” Craft said.

“He wasn’t no top dog.” Craft says, however, he and his associates in the drug underworld were impressed by the connections Wershe had made in Florida in his short-lived effort to become a “weight man.” He coulda been a contender. He coulda been somebody. But he got busted.

Can we believe Nate Craft? It seems so. He has support for what he says from a lawyer who knows a lot about Detroit’s drug trade.

Longtime Detroit criminal defense attorney Steve Fishman agrees Rick Wershe was no kingpin or drug lord. Fishman was involved as a defense attorney in most of the major Detroit drug trials of the era. He told me Wershe’s name never came up as a figure in any of those cases in any context.

“They talked about him being ‘the man,’” Fishman told an interviewer a few years ago. “How could he be ‘the man’? I represented guys who were ‘the man.’ You know, I’d heard his name. He was a kid. Yeah, he probably had access to a kilo here, a kilo there. But he was just a kid.”

Police Protest

In her 2003 testimony before the Parole Board Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Karen Woodside noted at the end of Wershe’s drug trial the courtroom was filled on sentencing day with young black men in fancy clothes and lots of flashy jewelry.

“’As (trial) Judge Jackson wondered aloud at the sentencing when he looked at the room full of jewelry bedecked youths, he said one can only wonder if they were here out of concern or to find out when and how they’d fill the void,’” Woodside testified.

It sounds pretty damning until you talk with Nate Craft about that day. Craft says he and a bunch of the dope slingers from the ‘hood were paid by Detroit narcs to show up at court to “demonstrate” against the sentencing of White Boy Rick.

“We was paid to come down to protest about Rick,” Craft told me. “They had us wear bling. They wanted us to pack the courtroom.”

Some of the street guys weren’t paid outright, Craft says. Some were lured to the court with a promise the narcs would go easy on drug raids for a while. It was a theatrical stunt orchestrated by the police to make it look like Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was the pied piper of Detroit’s drug underworld.

Parole Hearing

Wershe was in prison 15 years before he finally had a parole hearing. His parole board hearing is filled with intriguing elements never reported in the media. For example, retired FBI agent Groman says he had to have Wershe’s attorney subpoena him to testify because higher-ups in the Bureau in Detroit didn’t want him to get involved in such a controversial hearing.

The FBI was only too happy to use Wershe as a juvenile informant, but when he needed help, FBI executives turned their backs.

Groman had been Wershe’s primary “handler.” Wershe probably had more official investigative contact with Groman than any other agent. Agent Groman, who had been transferred to the FBI Las Vegas office by then, had to pay his own way back to Detroit to appear as a witness. Knowing his bosses were not pleased, Groman was careful in what he said in his testimony.

With the exception of a few retired FBI agents with a sense of justice, federal law enforcement has remained silent about Rick Wershe to this day. They hide behind “no comment” instead of doing what they ought to do, which is launch a criminal investigation of the ongoing violation of Rick Wershe’s civil rights by Detroit/Wayne County law enforcement and the Michigan Parole Board.

This is public corruption of a different sort. It is a conscious, deliberate and sustained effort within the criminal justice system to destroy a man who helped the federal government prosecute drug dealers and corrupt cops. “Rick Wershe is arguably the most productive informant in the history of the Detroit Office of the FBI,” says retired Detroit FBI agent John Anthony who was the in-house legal adviser during the Wershe era.

In a very real sense, the Detroit/Wayne County criminal justice system vendetta against Rick Wershe is a vendetta against the Justice Department for investigating and prosecuting public corruption. The extraordinary effort to keep Wershe in prison until he dies is a warning to others who would dare to help the FBI nail corrupt cops, prosecutors and politicians who are cozy with dope dealers with deep pockets.

A federal civil rights investigation of the Wayne County Prosecutor, the entire Michigan Parole Board, some past Detroit police officers and several past members of federal law enforcement in Detroit would serve as a warning to police and prosecutors everywhere not to retaliate against federal informants unless they want to risk going to prison themselves.

When it comes to the Michigan Parole Board, which is responsible to no one, the feds might need to open a special office in Lansing to investigate civil rights abuses in the issuance or denials of other paroles.

‘Balls to the Walls’

Current members of the U.S. Justice Department first need to admit to themselves that their agencies are not blameless.

Federal prosecutors used Rick Wershe, just as their investigators had done. One Assistant United States Attorney promised inmate Wershe he would go “balls to the wall” to help him with his state case if Rick would just testify before a federal grand jury about the so-called Best Friends murder-for-hire gang. Rick kept his end of the agreement.

The assistant United States Attorney did not keep his end of the agreement. He broke his promise to Wershe apparently without a second thought. The shame of federal law enforcement in Detroit in the treatment of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. continues to this day.

A thorough federal civil rights investigation would have to include the actions of a couple of DEA agents who testified against Rick Wershe’s release at his 2003 parole hearing.

Why would two DEA agents testify against Wershe after two other DEA agents had visited Wershe in a federal prison in Arizona a decade earlier and pleaded with him to come back to Detroit to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the Best Friends murder-for-hire gang?

Wershe cooperated with the DEA and testified before a federal grand jury. His reward was the testimony of two DEA agents who tried to help bury him for life at his hearing on whether he should be released on parole.

Corrupt Vendetta

If federal investigators explore the corrupt vendetta against one of their recruited informants, they can start by quizzing former Detroit U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins who was the head of the office at the time of Wershe’s 2003 parole hearing. They should ask him how the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office — Duggan was prosecutor then — came to have a copy of Wershe’s sealed grand jury testimony about the Best Friends murder-for-hire organization. That testimony remains under seal to this day. I verified this with U.S. District Court judge Avern Cohn, the federal judge on the Best Friends case.

They might also want to know why Collins sent the Michigan Parole Board a letter overriding and rescinding an earlier letter from one of his assistants, Lynn Helland, recommending parole for Wershe due to his extensive cooperation with law enforcement. They might ask Collins to produce any other letter he wrote to the Michigan Parole Board regarding any other state inmate. The media might ask him the same question.

The Collins intervention in the Wershe parole might make sense if he had been one of their prosecution targets. He wasn’t. The U.S. Justice Department never charged Wershe, who was their informant, with anything. He was never named as a co-conspirator in any federal indictment. He was never named as an unindicted co-conspirator. He was never charged with criminal conspiracy, racketeering or operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the so-called “kingpin” statute in federal law.

In fact, Rick Wershe was never named as a figure in any capacity in any federal case. So why would the U.S. attorney, a former defense attorney for some of Detroit’s powerful dope dealers, oppose state parole for a man who had helped the government put dope dealers and corrupt cops in prison?

Connect the Dots

Federal civil rights investigators might want to connect some dots.

Early in his law career Collins worked for the late Ed Bell, who was Wershe’s defense attorney in his 1987 drug case. Some wonder if Bell didn’t deliberately sabotage Wershe’s defense in order to ensure that Wershe went to jail for life for informing on Bell’s crooked friends in the Detroit political and law enforcement power structure. Bell was an ally of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.

One of Bell’s law partners at the time was Sam Gardner who later became the Chief Assistant Prosecutor—under Mike Duggan. Gardner assisted Bell in Rick Wershe’s 1988 drug case. Gardner was the Number Two man in the prosecutor’s office at the time of Wershe’s 2003 parole hearing.

Among those suspicious of Bell’s handling of the Wershe case is Wershe’s current defense lawyer, Ralph Musilli. He notes Wershe’s initial attorney, the late William E. Bufalino II had filed a motion to suppress the evidence because there were no Rick Wershe fingerprints on the cocaine or the box it was in. And it was found under a porch in Wershe’s neighborhood well after he had been arrested. The appeals argument would be, how could Wershe “possess” something that didn’t have his fingerprints on it?

Musilli argues the shaky prosecution connection of Wershe to the seized drugs would be a strong appeal issue in the event of a conviction. When Wershe pushed Bufalino aside and hired Ed Bell, one of the first things Bell did was withdraw Bufalino’s motion to suppress the evidence. When Wershe was convicted, he had no appeal issue after Bell withdrew the Bufalino suppression motion.

Bufalino put this issue in stark terms in 2003 in his testimony before the Michigan Parole Board:

“It was Bell and Gardner. They guaranteed him that he would walk. They pulled a motion, a dispositive motion on a search and seizure issue regarding this case. They pulled the motion. They hung this boy out to dry.”

Wershe had dropped Bufalino and hired Bell to defend him at the urging of Cathy Volsan Curry, the favorite niece of the late Coleman Young, the longtime powerful mayor of the City of Detroit.

When her husband went to jail after he was convicted in the FBI investigation where Wershe was the confidential informant, Cathy Volsan Curry boldly approached Wershe, who was much younger, and suggested they have a fling. They did.  (See this Informant America blog post: “White Boy Rick: A Child of Coleman Young’s Detroit”) Rick Wershe and Cathy Volsan Curry were having their torrid affair at the time he was arrested.

Cathy Volsan Curry’s father was the late Willie Volsan a longtime racketeer in Detroit’s black community, a major drug dealer and the brother-in-law of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Willie Volsan was reputed to have excellent connections in the Detroit Police Department and many believed it was due to his related-by-marriage ties to Coleman Young.

Volsan was eventually caught and prosecuted in the FBI sting of corrupt police officers mentioned previously. It was Rick Wershe who enabled the FBI sting operation that sent Willie Volsan to jail.

The FBI tried to catch Gil Hill in their sting, too. Hill had a business relationship with Willie Volsan and Willie introduced Hill to undercover FBI agent Mike Castro who was posing as a Miami cocaine baron who needed police protection moving drugs and cash through Detroit. The street-savvy Hill backed away before the FBI could collect enough evidence to indict him.

Willie Volsan’s brother-in-law, Mayor Young, was still in office when Willie got busted thanks to White Boy Rick. This snitching white kid had slept with his niece and helped the FBI, which Young despised, send his sister’s husband to prison. We can only speculate about what the late Mayor Young may have said about White Boy Rick to his fanatically loyal cronies and pals in the Detroit black political and law enforcement establishment.

Convicted Cop

If the feds launch a civil rights investigation they need to visit Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan and interview an inmate named William Rice.

William Rice

Rice is the former head of the Detroit Police Homicide Section. He was Detroit’s top homicide cop for 20 years. He testified against parole for Rick Wershe at that 2003 hearing. Ironically, Rice is now in prison. He was convicted in a mortgage fraud case and he was charged with selling prescription pills and marijuana. Here’s more irony: Rice is in the same prison as Rick Wershe.

Rick Wershe told me he deliberately confronted the ex-homicide cop one day at a prison lunch table by sitting across from Rice and staring at him.

“Do I know you?” Wershe recalls Rice asking.

“You are one of the reasons I’m still in here,” Wershe replied across the lunch table.

Rice seemed stunned as Wershe told him the story. Rice told Wershe he was pressured by higher-ups in the Police Department to testify against Wershe even though he had no idea who Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was.

Bill Rice’s Turnabout

After that lunch table encounter, Bill Rice decided to try to help Wershe, his fellow inmate.

He prepared a sworn affidavit in which he said that he was ordered to testify against Wershe at his parole hearing even though Rice had never encountered Wershe’s name in any murder investigations. Equally important is Rice’s assertion that he was sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to review some documents in preparation for his testimony at the Rick Wershe parole hearing.

“I was called to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office,” Rice swore in his affidavit. “There I met with Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Karen Woodside. She provided me with a volume of paperwork, including portions of Richard Wershe Jr.’s grand jury testimony, which I reviewed in preparation for my testimony.”

Improper disclosure of federal grand jury testimony is a felony. People can go to jail for that. The statute of limitations is long past for things that happened in 2003 but the violation of Rick Wershe’s civil rights continues to this day. If leaking sealed grand jury testimony helped bury Rick Wershe Jr. as part of an orchestrated and continuing vendetta, a conspiracy to deprive someone of their civil rights, well…

Someone is sure to say something like, “Well! Consider the source! Rice is a convict! Why should we believe him?” The funny thing is, convict after convict keeps telling me there is corruption in the system and it has worked against Richard J. Wershe, Jr. The paper trail of evidence I’ve found so far backs up many of the claims of the “bad” guys. When I was a cop beat reporter in Detroit, the late Detroit Police Executive Deputy Chief James Bannon often told me, “Street talk is frequently straight talk.”

Rice has the unique perspective of being Detroit’s top homicide cop and now he’s on the other side, in prison. He knows the system from both sides.

In his sworn affidavit Rice states: “It is my belief that everyone who testified at the 2003 parole hearing at the request of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office had the same availability to the same documents and information as had been given to me.”

There’s more. Rice says he was puzzled about being told to testify against Richard Wershe, Jr.

“I asked why I was being asked to testify at the parole hearing, since I did not know anything about Richard Wershe, Jr.”, Rice said. “I was told it had come through channels (police talk for saying it was orders from a higher ranking officer.)”

Rice didn’t leave it there.

“I spoke with former homicide Inspector, Gilbert Hill, who told me that he believed I was recommended by Jeffrey Collins, who was, at the time, a United States Attorney for the area.”

Why the hell would Jeffrey Collins, the U.S. Attorney, orchestrate testimony against Wershe, a state prisoner, who had been a paid informant for the federal government and who had done a good job helping the U.S. attorney’s office prosecute drug traffickers and corrupt police officers?

And why would Gil Hill know something like that unless he was in on the planning, too?

Remember what was said about Collins earlier. Collins learned the criminal defense business working for Ed Bell. Milton “Butch” Jones, the notorious leader of Young Boys, Incorporated, an infamous drug gang in Detroit, wrote a self-adoring, self-published autobiography called, “Y.B.I.-The Autobiography of Butch Jones.” Jones ends the book with this line: “Hell, somebody had to take over this city. Why not me?” At the end of the book, in the acknowledgements, he gives a shout-out to Jeffrey Collins.

Bell’s law partner was the late Sam Gardner who later became the Chief Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor under Mike Duggan. Gardner held that position at the time of the Wershe parole hearing. Did I mention Gardner had “assisted” Bell in defending Wershe in 1987-88? Now, he was the Chief Assistant Prosecutor as the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office tried desperately to keep Wershe in prison. And they were desperate.

Retired FBI agent John Anthony, mentioned previously, was the legal advisor to the Detroit office at the time of the Wershe parole hearing. Anthony remembers getting a “frantic” phone call a day or two before the parole hearing from Detroit Police Commander Dennis Richardson, now retired.

Anthony told me Richardson pleaded to get his hands on material that could be used against Wershe at the parole hearing. Anthony wasn’t about to turn over FBI investigative files. He gave Richardson the FBI’s newspaper clipping file about White Boy Rick Wershe. Those newspaper clippings were submitted at the parole hearing by assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Karen Woodside as part of the “evidence” against Richard J. Wershe, Jr. They threw anything they could find at the parole hearing wall, hoping it would stick.

Maybe there are many, many dots to be connected in the tangled web of the vendetta to keep Rick Wershe in prison “for his entire life” to quote again from the Mike Duggan letter to the Michigan Parole Board. There are many people who will be ready with denials when asked about their role in this scandal of one man’s lifetime.

The current Detroit U.S. Attorney, Barbara McQuade and Paul Abbate, the outgoing Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit FBI had nothing to do with the federal government’s shabby treatment of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. in the past.

But they are in charge now and McQuade and Abbate’s incoming replacement, Special Agent David Gelios, can take action now—or they can turn their back on the continuing civil rights injustice and disgraceful retaliation against one of their own informants. It looks to be an ongoing conspiracy to violate a man’s constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment that appears to be rooted in yet more public corruption.

In part, this is the word of jail birds and ex-cons against people who are sworn to uphold the law. Yet, an investigation built largely on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggests it is the convicts who are telling the truth. After over a year of investigative reporting I can say with confidence the legend of White Boy Rick, the “drug lord” and “kingpin” is built mostly on lies.

This is the real White Boy Rick story. It is a tale of shameful law enforcement exploitation of a kid. It is not about a kid drug baron. The kid was taught the drug trade by law enforcement. It is about depriving a man of his life because he helped the federal government prosecute people with political connections in a corrupt big city. It is a story the news media has consistently failed to grasp. So-called reporters and editors keep focusing on the victim—Rick—instead of the pile of lies concocted by some in the criminal justice community who are angry that Wershe told the FBI about the drug crimes and payoffs of some very powerful people.

The Dilemma in 2015

Today Prosecutor Worthy has a dilemma.

If documentation and records suddenly appear on any of the issues in the Duggan letter, her office will have lied in an official response to a proper request made under a Michigan law—the Freedom of Information Act.

If, as the prosecutor’s response to my FOIA request indicates, “no records exist” for the accusations that are the basis for the White Boy Rick legend, then there is no basis for claiming Richard J. Wershe, Jr. poses a danger to the community if he is released.

Informant America has already established through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry reported in a previous blog post that Wershe has no disciplinary record in the Michigan Department of Corrections. An official at Oaks Correctional Facility, where Wershe is housed, says Wershe could be described as a model prisoner with no “tickets” for misbehavior.

What’s more, Kym Worthy’s response to my request for the evidence behind Duggan’s letter to the Michigan Parole Board makes the Mayor of the City of Detroit look like a lying fool. Unless he didn’t write the letter. This is where the plot thickens.

A spokesman for Mayor Duggan says the mayor simply doesn’t remember the letter to the parole board about Rick Wershe. Maybe that’s because he never wrote it.

Let’s compare the Duggan signature on the 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole Board with the Duggan signature on a recent letter to Governor Rick Snyder.

Were the signatures written by the same person? You decide.

Did someone in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, someone with access to department stationery, forge Duggan’s signature to a letter he never wrote?

Is this letter the Michigan Attorney General has used as a court exhibit to persuade a federal judge that Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is an evil man and menace to society a falsified document?

If Mike Duggan didn’t sign the fiery condemnation letter to the Michigan Parole Board urging them to keep Rick Wershe in prison until he dies, who did?

More on that next week.

Gang Land News: Feds Cheer Mama’s Boy Mob Snitch, And He Earns A Sweet Reward

Jerry Capeci is considered a mob expert. He’s the founder and editor of the paid subscription website Gang Land News. This article was republished with permission.

By Jerry Capeci

Anthony Zoccolillo’s role as a co-star of the short-lived Mama’s Boys of the Bronx reality TV show was pretty much a flop.

But there was applause all around for the former Genovese crime family associate-turned super snitch at his sentencing last month. Surrounded by dozens of FBI agents, NYPD detectives and very happy family members, a smiling but moisteyed Zoccolillo walked out of Manhattan Federal Court and breathed free fresh air for the first time in 18 months.

His best review came from Judge Richard Sullivan who praised him for “truly extraordinary” undercover work following his arrest on drug dealing charges and sentenced Zoccolillo to “time served.”

In January, Gang Land dubbed Zoccolillo The Most Effective Mob Turncoat Of 2014. Federal prosecutor Rebecca Mermelstein said he was he even better than that. She credited him with giving her the crucial evidence to obtain six indictments against 14 mobsters and drug dealers, and dubbed Zoccolillo the best cooperating witness she had seen in her five years as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

“This is, without a doubt, the cooperator who has offered the most substantial assistance,” Mermelstein said of Zoccolillo. She submitted a list of 27 gangsters, including 13 members of a violent Bronx-based Albanian gang who pleaded guilty to drug, weapons and other charges rather than face the former Mama’s Boy on the witness stand.

“He did it from the very beginning” when he “worked proactively to make hundreds of in-person telephone recordings,” she said. “Unlike many people, he never withheld anything. He never got caught minimizing anything. He came forward immediately and did  the right thing.”

The sentencing documents, and a transcript of the proceeding, which took place May 1, were sealed until this week. Judge Sullivan ordered them unsealed following a Gang Land pro se motion that cited the public’s common law and First Amendment right to open court proceedings. Zoccolillo, as Gang Land first disclosed two years ago, flipped on the same day he was arrested — February 20, 2013.

He quickly snared Genovese mobster Salvatore (Sally KO) Larca and three others on tape as they conspired to buy thousands of pounds of marijuana in northern California and distribute it in New York. Larca was buying the high-grade weed for $1500 a pound and selling it for $4000 a pound.

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