Retired FBI agent Jim Dixon, the man responsible for the controversial recruitment of Detroit teenager Richard (White Boy Rick) Wershe, Jr. as a confidential informant fresh out of the eighth grade at just 14 years old three and a half decades ago, died of cancer this month. He was 70. Wershe, 49 today, has been locked up since he was 18 on drug and now auto-theft conspiracy charges, the longest-serving non-violent offender in the American prison system.

Award-winning investigative journalist Vince Wade – a staple of Detroit TV news broadcasts in the 1970s and 1980s – broke the news about Dixon’s passing on his blog last week. Wade has been at the forefront of chronicling the Wershe saga for the last five years, developing an entire website devoted to the case and penning a book he released back in the summer (Prisoner of War – The Story of White Boy Rick & The War On Drugs). The movie, White Boy Rick, starring Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt as Wershe, is currently in theatres.

“For a 14 year old kid, he had so much information,” said Dixon in an interview with Wade. “It was unbelievable what he had been involved in at that particular time. He’d start rattling stuff off (names, places) and you’d ask yourself how does a 14 year old know all of this? But he was a street kid. He knew all these guys, he ran with them.”

Playing ball on both sides of the law, the savvy and charismatic Wershe rose to street-legend status in the dangerous and colorful Motor City drug game of the late 1980s, before being imprisoned on a cocaine possession case arising out of a routine traffic stop when he was 17. It’s since been revealed his reputation far exceeded his actual numbers in the dope world. Today, he’s almost 50 and serving out the final years of his time behind bars, only weeks removed from having a Hollywood movie adaption of his crazy, corruption-laced and adrenaline-infused teenage years hit the big screen.

In 1984, Jim Dixon was on a federal drug task force investigating Detroit crime lord Johnny Curry, the emperor of Motown’s eastside dope trade and at that time married to Mayor Coleman Young’s favorite niece, Cathy Volsan. Young was the most powerful politician Detroit had ever seen and rumors of wrongdoing surrounded his administration for his entire 20-year reign. The feds lusted equally to bust both Young and Curry and saw taking down Curry’s criminal empire as the first step in toppling the Mayor.

Dixon was tipped off to the young Wershe’s friendship with Curry’s baby brother Rudell (Boo) Curry by an undercover cop and through an introduction to Wershe from his father, Richard, Sr. a known informant for illegal weapons trafficking activity in the area, convinced him to go to work for the FBI infiltrating the Curry organization. He was the lone white kid in the neighborhood, hence the nickname and quickly gained the organization’s trust.

Wershe worked for the task force from June 1984 through the fall of 1986 and received roughly $45,000 in compensation. Dixon was reassigned, transferred off the task force in early 1985. Mayor Young was never indicted for any criminal activity and left office on his own accord in the 1990s.

Over the course of more than two years employed as a mole by the federal government, Wershe was shot and almost killed, encouraged to the drop out of high school by the task force he was putting his life on the line for and provided the FBI enough insider intelligence to bust Johnny Curry in 1987 — Curry did 13 years in the joint for a narcotics and racketeering conspiracy. Wershe had become Curry’s protégé and eventually began a romance with his wife. His flashy style and quick-witted manner combined with his age, race and choice of high-profile girlfriend attracted a white-hot media spotlight in his final year of freedom and inspired storylines on popular television shows of the day like Miami Vice and 21 Jump Street.

Found guilty of possession with intent to distribute eight kilos of blow in January 1988, Wershe was sentenced to life in state prison under the now-defunct “650 Lifer Law.” Three years into his sentence, he reconvened his relationship with the FBI and helped the government dismantle a ring of dirty cops. Still, he wasn’t released from the state of Michigan until July 2017, the last person convicted under the law to be granted parole. While in a Florida prison in a federal witness protection unit in the 2000s, Wershe was convicted of middling stolen-car transactions and slapped with five more years he’s in the process of serving right now. He’s scheduled for release in December 2020.

The fresh-faced Richie Merritt, a teen from Baltimore plucked by a casting scout in his inner-city high school, plays Wershe in the movie released by Studio 8, a Sony Pictures subsidiary, and produced by Scott Franklin (Black Swan) and Jon Lesher (Birdman, Black Mass). McConaughey plays Wershe’s down-on-his-luck dad, the Oscar-winner and filmmakers taking major creative license with the depiction of the character and his role in the entire debacle. Wershe, Sr. was getting paid a “finder’s fee” from the feds for serving up his resourceful progeny for them to exploit. According to the movie, Wershe is falsely shown being blackmailed into working with the FBI to try to protect his dad from a murder charge tied to a gun he had allegedly sold. Actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane play FBI agents in the film who are composite characters inspired by Dixon and other agents connected to Wershe’s handling as an illegal underage informant.

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