Some cite in­ac­cu­ra­cies in ‘White Boy Rick’ movie

Film star­ring Matthew McConaughey over­states teen’s role, sup­port­ers say

The Detroit News - - News - BY ORALANDAR BRAND-WIL­LIAMS The Detroit News

A highly an­tic­i­pated movie about Rick Wer­she Jr. hits the big screen Fri­day, reignit­ing con­tro­versy over the for­mer drug dealer who gained no­to­ri­ety dur­ing Detroit’s crack co­caine epi­demic in the late 1980s.

“White Boy Rick” de­buted Thurs­day night with a red car­pet pre­miere at Emag­ine Novi, but some of those in­volved in Wer­she’s case say the film presents a dis­torted pic­ture of the one­time teenage nar­cotics hustler and fed­eral drug in­for­mant.

Wer­she, 49, was paroled in Au­gust 2017 af­ter spend­ing nearly three decades be­hind bars in Michi­gan, only to be trans­ferred to prison in Florida in a sep­a­rate case. Wer­she, who is ex­pected to be re­leased in 2020, did not re­spond to a re­quest from The Detroit News to be in­ter­viewed about the film’s re­lease.

In an in­ter­view last year, Wer­she called the movie “long over­due” and said he hoped it would clear up “this myth cre­ated by the me­dia” of him be­ing a larger-than-life dealer who played a sig­nif­i­cant role in Detroit’s then-bur­geon­ing drug trade.

“The truth was hidden for so long,” Wer­she told The News while he was in­car­cer­ated at the Oaks Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity. “Peo­ple will come away from it an­gry.”

But his at­tor­ney, Ralph Musilli, said “White Boy Rick” paints Wer­she — played in the film by Richie Mer­ritt — as a nar­cotics king­pin, yet noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

“He wasn’t even on the radar,” said Musilli. “He was a small-time guy.”

Musilli also takes ex­cep­tion with the por­trayal of Richard Wer­she Sr., played by Matthew McConaughey.

Musilli said the movie mis­char­ac­ter­ized the fa­ther, who has since died, as an au­toworker but that the el­der Wer­she was a “hustler.”

Re­tired FBI Agent Her­man Gro­man, who used the younger Wer­she as an in­for­mant and now lives in Las Ve­gas, said the movie “doesn’t meet the whole truth.”

Gro­man met Richard Wer­she Jr. through the teenager’s fa­ther. The for­mer fed­eral agent said the young drug dealer be­came an in­for­mant in 1989 and helped him with “Op­er­a­tion Back­bone,” which re­sulted in con­vic­tions for drug-re­lated cor­rup­tion within the Detroit Po­lice Depart­ment.

The movie “White Boy Rick,” ac­cord­ing to Gro­man, is “far from fact” be­cause it de­picts the younger Wer­she as a big­ger drug dealer than he re­ally was.

“He wanted to be­come a sig­nif­i­cant dealer and of course he failed,” Gro­man said Thurs­day.

The re­tired FBI agent also ques­tions the im­age the film presents of Wer­she’s fa­ther.

Gro­man said while Wer­she Jr. loved his fa­ther and vice versa, the older Wer­she was a “bizarre” fa­ther fig­ure and un­like the one por­trayed in the film by McConaughey. “What kind of fa­ther turns his son out to be an FBI in­for­mant?” said Gro­man.

Free­lance jour­nal­ist and au­thor Vince Wade, who wrote a book about Wer­she ti­tled “Pris­oner of War,” said the por­trayal of him as a drug king­pin is in­ac­cu­rate and that the movie de­picts the fa­ther too kindly.

“The movie’s premise as fa­ther and son against the world is just not true,” said Wade. “The truth is ... Rick’s fa­ther was vi­o­lent and he was abu­sive and he risked his son’s life for FBI in­for­mant cash.”

As for the younger Wer­she, Wade said: “They say he was a king­pin. He was never a king­pin. There is noth­ing in the records to sup­port that smear. There is no ba­sis for call­ing Rick a king­pin de­spite what they have on movie poster.”

Wade says Wer­she was the “ac­tual cat­a­lyst” for the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion/pros­e­cu­tion of then-Detroit Po­lice Chief Wil­liam Hart in the late 1980s and the probe of drug cor­rup­tion in the Detroit Po­lice Depart­ment that re­sulted in 10 con­vic­tions.

Wer­she has said he was given the moniker “White Boy Rick” by a for­mer Detroit tele­vi­sion re­porter and was not known on the streets by that name.

In the mean­time, Wer­she’s sup­port­ers are hop­ing to get the re­main­der of his Florida prison term com­muted and get him re­leased within the next few months. Musilli said Florida clemency of­fi­cials have sched­uled a Dec. 3 hear­ing on the re­quest.

the Univer­sity of Mi­ami law pro­fes­sor Craig J. Tro­cino, di­rec­tor of the Mi­ami Law In­no­cence Clinic, said he doesn’t be­lieve the movie will in­flu­ence the Florida clemency board.

“I can’t imag­ine it’s go­ing to have an im­pact,” said Tro­cino. “All the bad stuff is al­ready known about him. The facts of the record are al­ready known.”

Tro­cino said com­mu­ta­tions are rare and “it comes down to how badly the state of Florida wants to keep him in jail.”

He said the cost of keep­ing Wer­she be­hind bars is $74,000 a year.

While thou­sands of movie­go­ers will see the movie this week, Wer­she will not be among them, ac­cord­ing to Paul W. Walker, a spokesman for the Florida Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions.

“There does not ap­pear to be any ac­com­mo­da­tions set at this time to al­low him to see the movie,” Walker said Thurs­day.

Gro­man said he went to Florida along with an­other re­tired FBI agent in May to talk with Florida of­fi­cials about re­leas­ing Wer­she ear­lier than 2020.

He said he be­lieves Wer­she’s for­mer role as an in­for­mant who helped achieve con­vic­tions and bring down some drug oper­a­tions will help per­suade Florida of­fi­cials to let him go. The film should help too, he said.

“Fa­vor­able things are go­ing to hap­pen,” Gro­man said.

Robin Buck­son / The Detroit News

Dawn Scott, sis­ter of Richard Wer­she Jr., meets Ish­mael Ali, left, and Isa­iah Ali, ac­tors in “White Boy Rick,” at a red car­pet pre­miere Thurs­day at Emag­ine Theater in Novi. The movie is based on Wer­she’s teen years as a drug dealer in Detroit.

Columbia Pic­tures

Matthew McConaughey and Richie Mer­ritt in the movie “White Boy Rick,” which will be re­leased to­day.

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

Richard Wer­she Jr., called White Boy Rick, at a press con­fer­ence in Grosse Pointe in 1987.


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