Richard Wershe was fourteen years old when police started using him as a paid informant in Detroit, Michigan. Just as gangs use underage soldiers to insulate the higher ups and complicate prosecution, law enforcement exploited the child's youth and street knowledge to secure drug busts. By the time he was just eighteen years old, Richard reinvented himself as cocaine kingpin "White Boy Rick," got busted, and was facing a mandatory life sentence.
In all, Wershe estimates, the authorities paid him perhaps $30,000 for his work. FBI documents record less than $10,000, but both Wershe and his father claim that some payments he received were off the books, and that often it was police, rather than FBI agents, who handed him the cash.
Wershe told me that he never dealt drugs until after he became an informant. Dixon said that when he handled Wershe in the early days, the teenager “knew a lot” and “ran with some of the people, you know, the lower-end people.” But Dixon didn’t think Wershe was involved with the drugs himself. “Nothing that I picked up on, anyway,” he told me.
That soon changed. The money Wershe made from informing, he claims, helped finance his drug business. He claims that sometimes his handlers would save him a step and let him keep the drugs he bought with their money. He would turn around and sell them. He soon earned the trust of suppliers, who would front him cocaine and allow him to pay them later with the proceeds from sales. He had a knack for it, and his operation grew.
“We brought him into the drug world,” Gregg Schwarz, the longtime FBI agent, told me. “And what happened? He became a drug dealer. And we’re surprised by that?”
Wershe would be out buying Gucci luggage, jewelry, whichever jeans cost the most—usually Calvin Klein or Guess. “My daughter became sick on doing drugs,” Wershe’s father says. “My son became sick on power, the excitement, the prestige, the money, and the glamour of selling. OK? He became sick.”
Although he wasn’t old enough to drive, Wershe had to have a car, a status symbol with special weight in Detroit. In fact, by the time he was 18, Wershe had owned eight of them. Having no license presented no trouble; he knew auto dealers who would help fudge the paperwork as long as the money was real. He was partial to seat-rattling sound systems, so he could blast Run–DMC, maybe the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill. He bought an Eddie Bauer Ford Bronco to match the Currys’, in green and tan, though he later lost it in a bet over a pool game. He and Boo also bought twin motorcycles, 750cc Honda Interceptors, the kind of flashy, high-powered bikes they called crotch rockets.
At the height of Wershe’s career, his connection would send him and his associates shipments as large as 50 kilos, which at the time would sell in Detroit at around $17,000 per kilo. The local retail price was dropping fast. With crack at its peak, opportunists were flooding the market, trying to get in on the boom. In Wershe’s neighborhood, he recalls, a man who worked on the line at General Motors was moonlighting as a dealer. So was an assistant principal at an elementary school. Supply was outstripping demand.
By now, Wershe did not generally deal to users, or even have underlings do it for him. He was not a retailer or a gang leader but a so-called weight man: He sold in quantities of a kilo or more, usually, to other dealers. If his buyers turned the cocaine into crack and sold it in small-dollar amounts, the street value of those original 50 kilos could run into the millions. “He rose all the way through the ranks,” B.J. Chambers says. “He did it just as big as me, the Curry brothers, Maserati Rick—whoever you want to name.”
Richard Wershe (center right) on his way to court, where he would eventually be convicted and sentenced to life without parole under a now-defunct Michigan law mandating that sentence for anyone convicted for possession of 650 grams or more of cocaine. When life sentences for non-violent juvenile offenders were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, he was re-sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Though federal agents argued against a renewed life sentence, local law enforcement fought for it- some say because he helped bring down a number of corrupt Detroit PD officers who were running protection for cocaine importer while he was in prison. This cooperation hurt friends and family of former Detroit mayor Coleman Young.
Edited by Sidestreet, 27 November 2016 - 10:00 AM.