Society

FBI Informant Jailed At 17 Still Serving Life In Prison For Non-Violent Drug Crime

| by Emily Smith
Richard Wershe police photos, from 1988 and the presentRichard Wershe police photos, from 1988 and the present

A 14-year-old drug dealer who aided the FBI as an informant is serving life behind bars despite all efforts to free him.

Richard Wershe Jr., 46, was given life without parole for a non-violent drug crime when he was just 17 years old. He is now eligible for parole due to changes in the drug law, according to the Detroit Free Press.

However, it appears as though he might not leave prison any time soon.

In September, Wershe lost his latest bid to have his sentence reduced. He has also repeatedly been denied parole, most recently in 2013. Despite these setbacks, his attorneys are still fighting for his case.

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Another roadblock to him being released from prison is the fact that in 2006, he pleaded guilty to two felonies -- including racketeering -- after allegedly running a multimillion-dollar stolen car scheme from prison.

Wershe was originally put in jail under Michigan’s so-called 650 Lifer law, according to The Guardian. The law was signed by former governor William Milliken, who later said he regretted the decision, and it states that anyone carrying at least 650 grams of cocaine will receive life in prison without parole. The law has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wershe's involvement with the drug trade began when he was just 14 years old, and he was recruited as a police and FBI informant.

“I was asked to go out there and get information about some people that were involved in the drug trade, and their connections, and how the drugs were coming,” Wershe told The Guardian. “They got me involved in this. I was a kid. I made a poor decision.”

As a teen informant, Wershe helped the FBI prosecute crooked police officers and Willie Valson, the brother-in-law of former Detroit mayor Coleman Young. But it was this cooperation that led to his downfall. At 16 years old -- after having been an informant for two years -- Wershe became immersed in the drug world. 

"Was I blinded by the money, was I blinded by the girls, was I blinded by the material possessions?" Wershe said. "Absolutely."

Wershe readily admits to his participation in the 1980s drug trade, but he also says that his role as a drug dealer has been grossly overstated by prosecutors. To make matters worse, most of the drug dealers and murderers that Wershe helped put behind bars have been freed, while he still remains in prison.

It all boils down to one question: Should his mistakes as a teenager dictate his entire life? 

“How can you give up a man’s life?” Ralph Musilli, Wershe's attorney, said. “We’re talking about someone who went to prison at the age of 18 on a nonviolent crime. You can’t let this guy stay in prison.”

Wershe’s team of attorneys are continuing to fight for his case.

He is also up for parole again in 2017, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Sources: The Guardian, Detroit Free Press / Photo Credit: Police photos via Huffington Post