The unconscionable three decades spent in prison by 1980s-era Detroit teenage drug dealer and illegal underage federal informant Richard (White Boy Rick) Wershe, Jr. can all be traced back to his bizarre bust by local police for possession with intent to distribute over 650 grams of a controlled substance 30 years ago this week.

Today, Wershe, 47, is the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in the American prison system. The then-17 year old was arrested at a routine traffic stop in the late afternoon hours of May 22, 1987 outside his grandmother’s house on Hampshire Street near the corner of Harper and Dickerson on the far eastside of Detroit. The arrest followed a post-stop tussle between officers and members of Wershe’s family, Wershe himself dashing from the scene and authorities unearthing a box containing 8 kilos of cocaine almost two blocks away via an undocumented anonymous tip called into the neighborhood Detroit Police Department precinct.

Just three years earlier, according to federal records, court filings and affidavits signed by former law enforcement personnel, a just 14-year old Wershe was recruited fresh out of the eighth grade by a federal narcotics task force to be a paid mole and infiltrate area drug gangs. The relationship lasted until 1986. By the time of Wershe’s arrest in the spring of 1987, he had begun wholesale cocaine-trafficking on his own.

A Hollywood film starring Academy Award winning actor Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt is currently in production and will be released in theatres worldwide next year. The “650 Law” Wershe was convicted under which employed a mandatory life prison sentence was ruled unconstitutional ten years later. He has a parole hearing on June 8. His January 1988 trial went on amid a media firestorm ramped up by several hot-button issues surrounding his case, such as his young age and skin-color in contrast to his contemporaries in the city’s dope game, a natural swagger and charisma combined with adolescent snarkyness that fascinated the public and reporters alike and his romance with then-sitting Mayor Coleman A. Young’s favorite niece, who was more than six years older than him, were all factors that seemed to bait incessant press coverage.

McConaughey will portray Wershe’s dad in the movie. Richard Wershe, Sr. was a neighborhood street hustler, electronics expert and black-market weapons dealer who was also a federal informant and went to prison in the aftermath of his son’s drug conviction for selling silencers.

The Bust (as told by Wershe himself, his family and official FBI & Detroit Police Department files):

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on May 22, 1987, Wershe and his driver Roy (Bones) Grissom were pulled over in the driveway of a residence belonging to Wershe’s paternal grandmother Vera Wershe for speeding and running a stop sign by Detroit Police patrolmen Rodney Grandison and Jeff Clyburn. Upon approaching the rented vehicle, Clyburn noticed a shopping bag filled with cash in the car’s backseat and took possession of it. Clyburn’s grabbing of the bag of cash brought Wershe’s father and his pregnant sister Dawn out of the house and into a physical altercation with the two police officers.

Wershe Sr. got ahold of the bag of cash during the scuffle and gave it to his daughter, Dawn, who ran with it into her grandma’s residence and locked the door. The younger Wershe took off behind the house and down the block parallel to his grandmother’s heading west.

When the officers finally caught up with Wershe some 10-to-15 minutes later, they took him into an alley near his grandma’s house and severely beat him before slapping handcuffs on him and placing him under arrest for assaulting a policeman as a result of his participation in the immediate post-stop fracas. While Wershe was taken to the police station for processing, members of a Detroit Police narcotics squad arrived on the scene and started combing the neighborhood for drugs they could tie to Wershe. Approximately two hours after the original stop, through a nameless call-in tip that any recording of has since mysteriously been lost, police found a box with eight kilos of cocaine buried under a porch a block and a half away from Wershe’s grandmother’s house and arrested him for possession with intent to distribute narcotics.

A lot of things didn’t make a whole lot of sense with the bust and subsequent conviction – to say the situation was heavily layered would be an understatement. Wershe’s fingerprints didn’t match the prints police dusted from the box, however, at trial, neighbors Julie Story and David (Peanut) Golly testified that they saw Wershe bury the box and had even offered them money to take possession of the box and hide on his behalf. In the years following his testimony, however, Golly signed an affidavit admitting he lied under oath at the trial about seeing Wershe with any drugs in his possession and was physically intimidated into perjuring himself by the Detroit Police. It was also subsequently discovered that arresting officer Grandison perjured himself during his testimony at the winter 1988 trial when he said he didn’t know Wershe (the FBI taped a call between Wershe and Grandison confirming the two had been acquainted with each other prior to Grandison arresting him).

Wershe though admits he was “responsible” for the eight kilos of coke confiscated, that he took possession of a 10-kilo shipment from Miami that morning and that him and his best friend and right-hand man Stephen (Freaky Steve) Roussell, present at Vera Wershe’s residence the afternoon of the traffic stop, grabbed the whiskey box full of cocaine and in a panic ditched it under a neighbor’s porch.

Roussell, 20, was slain less than four months later, gunned down in the early morning hours of September 20, 1987 as he slept on his couch by Reginald (Rocking Reggie) Brown, one of the leaders of the infamously bloodthirsty Best Friends murder-for-hire and drug gang in a long-raging beef over a girl. Brown is serving a life prison sentence for Roussell’s slaying.

In 1991, Wershe reconvened his relationship with the U.S. Government and his further cooperation and grand jury testimony aided in the dismantling of the Best Friends and a notorious Detroit Police Department shakedown unit extorting protection payments from drug traffickers doing business in the Motor City in a bust known as Operation Backbone. Intelligence Wershe provided from within a Witness Protection Program wing of an Arizona federal prison also prevented the assassination of then-New York mob boss John Gotti, Jr., scion of iconic east coast crime lord John (The Dapper Don) Gotti.

*Vince Wade, an award-winning investigative television reporter in Detroit in the 1970s and 80s, blogs about Wershe on his website Informant America – The Dime Droppers (view here) and has chronicled Wershe’s arrest and trial, even acquiring the official court transcript.

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