'White Boy Rick' is about to become a household name.
The case of Rick Wershe, who in 1980s helped topple some of Detroit’s most notorious drug dealers as a 14-year-old FBI informant, is getting some major attention this week.
Friday marks the film release of “White Boy Rick,” a movie based on Wershe’s story. Days earlier, on Sept. 6, an eight-episode podcast series entitled "Shattered: White Boy Rick," available on Panoply, also dropped. It explores the teenager’s unbelievable journey, from teenage FBI informant to drug dealer to inmate to informant again, and then the subject of a feature film starring Matthew McConaughey.
Wershe’s personal story is gripping on its own, but the host of a podcast about the youngest FBI informant of all time says it also speaks as to how law enforcement agencies will use any means necessary to meet their goal.
Oxygen.com spoke to WDIV investigative reporter and podcast host Kevin Dietz. He has been covering Wershe’s case since 2003 and began diving into it five years ago. Dietz, who’s only four years older than Wershe, told Oxygen.com that he grew up in the suburbs, 20 miles away from where his subject was raised in Detroit
“Here I am all excited about the Tigers in the World Series in 1984 and this kid is getting paid by the FBI $30,000 dollars to be a snitch on the drug dealers in the neighborhood,” Dietz said. “The only reason he was in that situation was because he was born into a neighborhood where the largest drug operation in Detroit happened to be.”
In 1984, America’s inner cities were ravished by crack cocaine, Dietz explained. Crime rates in cities like Detroit tripled. He said that drugs, which were typically the DEA’s focus, suddenly became the FBI’s job, too.
“It reminds me of terrorism after 9/11,” he said. “It didn’t matter what agency you worked for, you worked on terrorism now. In 1984 no matter what agency you were working on you were working on drugs. So you had all these agencies out doing whatever they had to do to make cases.”
In the case of Wershe, the FBI originally brought on his gun dealer father Rick Wershe Sr. as an informant.
“But they didn’t use him,” Dietz said. “They used his 14-year-old kid to get information, having this 14-year-old kid go into drug houses to make drug buys so they could make arrests of drug dealers.”
Dietz said he believes that law enforcement still uses these tactics with youth growing up in impoverished areas.
“I think the real eye-opener in the podcast, and you will see it in the movie to a lesser extent, is that the federal government and law enforcement will do anything to get to the goal that they are trying to get to.”
At just 15-year-old, Wershe was shot in the gut by a man who thought he was a snitch. Afterward, the FBI put him right back to work. That’s when Wershe helped the FBI indict 20 of the biggest drug dealers in Detroit.
“Then they don’t need him anymore,” Deitz said. “They don’t give him a medal or send him to school. They just leave because they are on to the next neighborhood and the next informant to do what they are tasked to do, which is take on drug dealers. Well, what you left behind is a kid who can’t help himself who has now been a part of this life.”
At age 17, Wershe was arrested for drug offenses. Twelve years ago, while still incarcerated, he got in trouble again for being involved with a car stealing ring. While there, he became an informant yet again and helped the FBI arrest corrupt cops.
Dietz said it doesn’t make sense to him that Wershe, who has consistently cooperated with police, has served more time than many violent offenders.
“They [the FBI] don’t get him out of jail for it,” Dietz said. “They just take his information, make a big case against dirty cops in Detroit and they get another promotion. [...] He’s sitting in jail 30 years later and nobody has ever given him any credit or anything for all of the people he put in prison.”
Dietz added that the FBI agents he has spoken to told him they believe Wershe may be the greatest informant that the state of Michigan ever had.
But Dietz said Wershe’s story shows how informants can be used and left behind.
“It’s by any means necessary [for the FBI] and I think they’d do it today in the fight against terrorism or any other task that they deem important,” he said. “I think you get a really rare look into what it’s like to be an informant. In this case, a 14-year-old informant.”
Still in prison down in Florida, Wershe, now 49, is set to be released on Christmas Day 2020. Dietz calls Wershe a well-read, intelligent man who wants to get out of prison so he can spend time with his family and see his sick mom before she passes away.
“There is a clemency board down there that has the power to let him out, and I think that if people feel like he’s been in long enough it does help if you sit down and write a letter and send it to the clemency board," Dietz said.
WDIV Local 4 and Graham Media Group’s "Shattered: White Boy Rick" is the second season of the podcast “Shattered.” The first season focused on three missing boys in the Detroit-area.
“White Boy Rick," available on Panoply, features interviews with Wershe himself, McConaughey, and Kid Rock, who testified in favor of Wershe’s release in 2003.
[Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections, Provided]
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