How 'White Boy Rick' became an informant, drug dealer in Detroit

It starts with his father, Richard Wershe Sr.

This article is related to WDIV's Shattered Podcast, Season 2, which tells the story of "White Boy" Rick Wershe Jr's life from a drug informant to being granted parole. Listen to the podcast here .

Rick Wershe Jr., otherwise known as "White Boy Rick," was not always a drug dealing FBI informant. 

Wershe Jr. grew up on Hampshire Street on the east side of Detroit. It's where his father, Richard Wershe Sr., grew up.

Rick's father brought the family back to his old neighborhood in 1969. Rick was born shortly after they settled in.

"It was beautiful. It looked like a suburban neighborhood would nowadays. Everybody was close," said Dawn Scott, Rick's sister. "Everybody knew everyone's name. Streetlights came on, time to go home."

In the 70s, many in the neighborhood still worked for the car companies like Chrysler, including Wershe's and Scott's grandparents, Vera and Ray.

"My grandma was a legal secretary, and my grandfather was a foreman. Both of them worked on Mound, but in different plants," said Scott. "My grandfather had Parkinson's disease. This was before anyone knew what it was. It was very hard, very hard when he got sick."

"Really my grandparents I looked at as a mother and father. Everybody asked me that the first thing I'm gonna do when I get out, I'm going to visit their grave. That'll be the first thing that I do." said Rick Wershe Jr.

When the automotive industry struggled in the early 1980s, union jobs started to vanish in Detroit - a city where union jobs meant everything. That's when the "informal" economy took over.

"Richard Wershe Sr. was the quintessential street hustler," said Scott Burnstein, journalist and historian. "He was a guy that his mind was moving a thousand miles an hour, always looking to cut corners, always looking to find an angle to play, someone that always had a get rich quick scheme that he was trying to put into motion. Always looking for some type of leverage to use to get ahead."

"My dad wasn’t by any means, like, Ward Cleaver or anything like that but he always tried to teach right from wrong and he was a businessman," said Rick Wershe Jr.

Wershe Sr. did sell weapons illegally, according to federal investigators. Feds could have busted him, but instead they used his information.

Wershe Sr., trying to make some extra money on the side, became an official informant with the code name Gem. Rick was in 8th grade at the time.

For more, check out our podcast: Listen to Shattered: White Boy Rick 

When he was 14 years-old, Rick Wershe, Jr. became one of the youngest FBI informants in American history. The inside information he provided led to the downfall of some of Detroit's biggest drug dealers. Once the FBI no longer needed Rick, he became a dealer in his own right, only until being busted on a cocaine possession charge when he was 17. Wershe has been in prison ever since.

Hosted by WDIV investigative reporter, Kevin Dietz, Shattered: White Boy Rick chronicles Wershe's improbable life story. Listen and subscribe here.

Related: The Story of White Boy Rick