Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, Jr., then and now, in photos shown during a July 2023 news conference. (Screenshot from Fox Detroit affiliate WJBK)
A man who served more than 32 years in prison on drug charges after he alleges police set him up faced a legal setback this week when a judge dismissed his civil lawsuit against the FBI and the city of Detroit seeking $100 million for years of trauma resulting from his efforts to take down gangsters and corrupt cops as a teenage confidential informant.
The lawsuit by Richard Wershe Jr., 54, whose story was the basis for the 2018 film “White Boy Rick,” starring Matthew McConaughey, was dismissed due to a late filing.
“The court finds that [Wershe] has not met his burden to show that he acted ‘as diligently as reasonably could be expected’ where he did not take any action to file a claim or seek protection from the alleged threats of retaliation during his lengthy prison sentence,” U.S. District Judge Kay Behm wrote in her opinion. She also concluded that Wershe’s own allegations “affirmatively show that his claims are time-barred and must be dismissed.”
His defense attorney, Nabih Ayad, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Law&Crime. But he told the Detroit Free Press he would appeal.
“We are disappointed that the judge didn’t find Mr. Wershe to have extraordinary circumstances and therefore not tolling the statute of limitations,” Ayad said, the paper reported. “We will be appealing to the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The FBI declined to comment. The city of Detroit did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Wershe became a confidential informant when he was 14 in the 1980s and continued over several years during the city’s crack cocaine epidemic, court documents said. In his lawsuit, Wershe alleges his work as an informant got him shot and near death, made him a target of attempted killings and sent him to prison for years.
He alleges authorities abused him, “accosting” him multiple times a week and sometimes daily for several days in a row, court documents said.
He said an agent randomly accosted him while he walked to or from school, the store, friends’ houses, and to or from the basketball court. One even showed up at his home unannounced.
He said he did what his law enforcement handlers demanded — go into drug houses he did not know, in areas of the city he did not know, and ask to buy drugs from violent drug dealers or their criminal henchmen, the lawsuit alleges.
In November 1984, Wershe was shot at point-blank range with a .357 magnum. A bullet cut his large intestine in half. He only survived “by the grace of God,” court documents said.
His task force minders visited him in the hospital not to comfort or wish him well but “for the sole purpose of persuading and coercing him into lying about the circumstances of his attempted assassination,” court documents said. “Instead of pulling him out, they further endangered him by coercing him to stay a confidential informant,” the complaint said.
After he was shot, he did as he was told and lied about his attempted murder, saying it was “all just a big ‘accident.’”
Then, when he recovered, Wershe got more work for the task force than he did before he was shot.
He claims he was set up and taken down by Detroit cops when he was 17. He was pulled over by police on May 22, 1987, while driving to his grandmother’s house with a friend, the lawsuit said. He said officers became aggressive with him and his friend, and he ran away. When caught less than an hour later, he alleged they beat and whipped him with their pistols, sending him to the hospital.
Hours after he got out, Detroit police allegedly received a 911 call tipping them off to a large box full of cocaine later used as evidence against him in the case that put him in prison for 32 years and 7 months, court documents said.
He got his moniker, “White Boy Rick,” when he was first criminally charged, gaining notoriety in the local news as a drug “kingpin.”
While in prison in 1991, he was again used as an informant as part of a sting to take down corrupt Detroit police and politicians in a case called “Operation Backbone.” In 1992, he was asked to testify before a grand jury against gang members.
In 2017, he was paroled in Michigan but was transferred to a Florida prison, where he served five years before being released on July 20, 2020.
The following year, he filed his civil lawsuit.
“I’m bitter about missing out on my kids’ lives, about not being able to see my father when he was dying. I have grandkids who I’ve never met to this day,” Wershe said at a news conference at the time. “I want to put this behind me, and I think this is the final chapter.”
Wershe said he believes he remained imprisoned for so long because “I told on corruption in the city of Detroit.”
“I told on the powers that be, and I was too young and dumb to know that it would affect the rest of my life,” he said.
Read the judge’s ruling, below.
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