DETROIT – Rick Wershe had an unusual job as a 14-year-old. Police were paying him to get close to drug dealers and then tell them when shipments were coming in. It was a job that led Wershe to sell drugs and land in prison for more than 27 years.
"They showed me some pictures and asked me who this person was, who that person was. I basically identified them and they said they would be in touch," Wershe told Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz.
His father, also a paid informant, gave permission for police to recruit his son.
At first, Wershe said, police from a federally-funded task force gave him a few bucks to identify drug dealers.
"And the relationship grew from there. It went into them sending me into houses to purchase drugs and stuff like that," Wershe said.
Soon, he was collecting hundreds of dollars, and eventually thousands of dollars, to cozy up to criminals and help police bust them.
"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 in," Wershe said.
Documents obtained by Local 4 support Wershe's story. The documents show numerous payoffs for information.
Over two years, Wershe said he was given approximately $30,000. He used the money to buy clothes, jewelry and even cars -- despite the fact that he wasn't even old enough to drive.
His relationship with police worked out until Wershe turned 15 and was shot by a suspected drug dealer.
"I was shot and I never went back to school," Wershe said.
After the shooting, Wershe said police stayed away from him for a while. But they soon returned with a plan to send him to Las Vegas.
Detroit boxing legend Thomas "Hitman" Hearns was to fight Marvin Hagler in April 1985. It was a match the whole sports world was talking about. Big-time drug dealers were going and investigators wanted Wershe to be in the middle of it.
"They wanted as much information as I could on a drug organization in Detroit," Wershe said. "The government is the one that provided me with the fake ID."
Documents obtained by Local 4 list payment for Wershe's flight, room and spending money.
Wershe's trip to Las Vegas, and the information be subsequently provided to investigators, led to the bust of a major drug operation. But suddenly, Wershe said, police again stopped coming to him.
"They turned their back on me. I was a 17-year-old kid. I was addicted to the money," Wershe said.
Without the cash flow from police, he started selling drugs on his own. It lasted a year before he was convicted of having 8 kilos of cocaine, and sentenced to life in prison. Police called him a drug kingpin and he was tagged with the nickname "White Boy Rick."
Scott Burnstein is an author and true crime historian. He has researched Wershe's case for years.
"I don't use the word tragedy or injustice lightly, but I use it emphatically when I'm talking about Rick Wershe," Burnstein said. "I honestly believe that this is the prostituting of our youth, and then just throwing them in a cage and throwing the key away."
Burnstein said he feels that Wershe's reputation far exceeds the actual person, and what he was doing during those teen years.
"I think it's a true tragedy … an injustice. A wrong needs to be righted," Burnstein said.
Wershe is now 46 years old. He was eligible for parole more than a decade ago, but so far, he has not been given a hearing by the parole board.
"They got me involved in this. I was a kid. I made a poor decision. Should I be paying for it 27 years later? I don't think so," Wershe said.