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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prosecutor, son hail pardon of ex-cop

Ailing, remorseful former Detroit sergeant nabbed in drug case to be freed after 20 years.
The Detroit News by Paul Egan - November 26, 2008

Detroit Firefighter James C. Harris will never forget the day in 1992 he drove his father, a former Detroit police sergeant, to the federal courthouse in Flint for the final day of his trial in a criminal cocaine conspiracy. He drove home alone after a jury convicted his dad and U.S. marshals took him into custody. News this week that President Bush granted clemency to his father, James Russell "Jimmie" Harris, and commuted the remainder of his 30-year prison sentence, is "the best Thanksgiving present ever," the son said Tuesday. The elder Harris, 62, legally blind and sick with diabetes and hypertension, is to be released Dec. 22 -- more than 10 years ahead of schedule -- from the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina. He is one of 14 people who received pardons from President Bush this week.

Snared in a high-profile FBI sting operation that also netted relatives of then-Mayor Coleman A. Young, Harris has no political influence but earned his clemency through his remorse and help he gave to law enforcement after he went to prison, those involved with his case said. 'He's changed for the better' "I think it's great," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Helland, who prosecuted Harris twice after the first trial ended in a hung jury. "He had helped out as much as he can ... central of which was a video he made to dissuade other cops from turning bad." Even to a prosecutor, "the sentence he got, quite frankly, was an extraordinarily long sentence," Helland said. Harris also gave federal agents information several years ago about a 1985 Detroit killing that remains unsolved -- the drug-related drive-by shooting in northwest Detroit of 13-year-old Damion Lucas, said James B. Craven III, a Durham, N.C., attorney who since 2000 has spearheaded Harris' bid for clemency. "I didn't know him 15 years ago, and if I had, I don't think I would have liked him," Craven said of Harris. "He's grown up and changed for the better," he said. "I really came to love the guy." Craven said he spoke by telephone to Harris on Tuesday morning and "he's very, very happy."

FBI catches officers on tape

The FBI arrested Harris in 1991 along with Cathy Volsan Curry, the late Mayor Young's niece; Willie Volsan, Curry's father; and several other Detroit police officers and civilians. Federal agents posing as drug lords seeking police protection paid tens of thousands of dollars to Harris and Volsan, evidence showed. Charges against Curry were later dropped, though Volsan and others were convicted. The FBI secretly shot videotape of Detroit police officers, some in uniform, unloading fake cocaine shipments from a plane at Detroit City Airport and placing the packages in cars they believed belonged to drug lords. Officers sealed the airport perimeter when fake drug shipments arrived to protect the dealers from getting robbed and gave FBI agents who were posing as drug dealers a police radio to help them avoid detection, evidence showed. Harris and Volsan were secretly recorded being entertained by the fake dealers on a luxury yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- the same yacht the FBI used to catch corrupt members of the U.S. Congress and Senate when they posed as Arab businessmen in the Abscam investigation. Former Detroit drug kingpin Richard "White Boy Rick" Wershe Jr., already convicted at the time of the investigation, reportedly helped federal agents by vouching for the FBI agents posing as drug lords.

Harris wins supporters

Craven said a training video featuring Harris -- in which he implores recruits not to make the same mistakes he did -- has been shown to thousands of rookie FBI agents and other officers over the years. Harris' pitch for clemency included supportive letters from the FBI agents who investigated his case, who are now retired; Former Detroit U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy, now a federal judge; Former Detroit U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, now a top official in the U.S. Justice Department; Helland; Alan Gershel, the former head of the U.S. Attorney Office's criminal division in Detroit, and U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh, Craven said. Son happy to care for dad. Though many have a cynical view of presidential grants of clemency, "it's refreshing how nonpolitical they can be," said Craven, who specializes in such cases. "Politicians don't like to stick their necks out for cops convicted in public corruption cases and sent to prison," Craven said. "Dirty cops just aren't that popular." For James C. Harris, who was 21 when his dad went behind bars, "words can't even describe" the elation that news of his father's release brought. "I'll get to carve him a turkey as an adult," said Harris' only child, who will take care of his dad after his release. "Some days you get low. You want to give up. I can honestly say I never did." You can reach Paul Egan at (313) 222-2069 or


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I can't believe that Rick Wershe is serving a life sentence for helping the FBI and while a number of people were arrested because of his help, have been convicted and released, that he remains behind bars!! Non-violent offender? You have got to be kidding me...

Anonymous said...

Rick Wershe is currently serving a life prison sentence in the Michigan Department of Corrections for a single drug possession conviction from January 1988. When he was arrested he was only 17 years old. Newly uncovered evidence proves he was led into the life of being a teenage drug dealer by the federal government. Rick was recruited by a narcotics task force made up by the FBI, DEA, and several Detroit Police Department detectives in 1984 as a 14 year old juvenile, encouraged to drop out of high school and eventually put to work as a paid undercover operative in some of the state's most dangerous criminal organizations for the next three years.
Following his conviction, he was sentenced under Michigan's ultra-tough "650-Lifer Law", a law erased from the books in 1998, allowing him to be eligible for parole. In the three times before the parole board in the last decade, he's been rejected every time. As of 2012, he was the only minor sentenced under that law in the whole Michigan prison system that remains behind bars. He is also the only person in the country convicted as a minor for a non violent crime facing the prospect of serving a life sentence.
In the 25 years Rick has been incarcerated, he has cooperated with law enforcement extensively. Prosecutors have said that without his help, the largest police corruption case in Detroit's history would not have been possible. Some of the people ending up being convicted included members of Coleman Young's family.
Rick's situation doesn't feel right in many ways. This site will hopefully educate people who are unfamiliar with his situation , however isn't intended for "fans" to glamorize or endorse his behavior.
Once a boy who made a mistake, Rick is now simply a man in his mid-40's in search of a second chance.

This is a letter from a retired Detroit police officer to the Michigan Parole Board in June, 2012. ->

This is a letter to the Michigan Parole Board from a former FBI agent who worked directly with Rick Wershe when he was working undercover for them and the Detroit Police Department. He is someone who knows the truth and is not afraid to speak up. ->

Anonymous said...

Go back n get Youngs niece n lock her up also

Carts To Coast said...

It is a sad shame that Rick Wershe is still sitting in prison. Mayor Young's niece never served time (most likely because of who she is), this police officer harris has been granted clemency by our former president bush. I'd certainly like to know who the person is keeping Wershe locked up and why! Sounds like more to the story than we all know! Maybe our Detroit News and Free Press should go seeking for those answers like they did getting Kwame Kilpatrick's text messages to his mistress..