SPRINGFIELD — A fallen star of Pittsfield commerce, his health in tatters, will start the next decade wondering if he'll be jailed for bank fraud.
After waiting five years to be sentenced, former Greylock Federal Credit Union executive Michael DiCenzo returns to U.S. District Court in Springfield in January hoping for leniency in a case that has already sent one of his borrowers to prison.
But his long wait for punishment continues, as a judge seeks hard evidence on DiCenzo's medical prognosis — as well as details on what happened to the $4 million bled from the Pittsfield institution a decade ago.
"From a human point of view, I'm at a loss here what to do," Judge Mark G. Mastroianni said at a recent hearing. He signaled incarceration is likely. "I'm not looking very favorably on Mr. DiCenzo."
Prosecutors want DiCenzo, 66, to be sentenced to 30 months, a term that is 40 percent below federal guidelines. Along with steering millions in improper loans to borrower Jeffrey Pierce, then receiving kickbacks, DiCenzo says he stole from two nonprofit groups while a top lender with the credit union. Pierce was sentenced in August to 20 months in federal prison.
But rather than see DiCenzo go behind bars, his lawyer seeks probation for a man in grave health. At an August court session, attorney Alan J. Black detailed the former banker's physical ailments — bladder cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, vision problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
On top of that, DiCenzo suffered a minor heart attack earlier this year, Black said. He asked Mastroianni to spare the man time in jail.
After being told by a doctor to lose weight, DiCenzo underwent gastric surgery to install a lap band, a device that reduces the size of the stomach. Black said a procedure nicked DiCenzo's gallbladder and it burst.
"They took out his gallbladder and that almost killed him as well," Black said. He told Mastroianni he was shocked to see his client, who divorced after the fraud came to light, following a four-month gap in visits.
"He looks horrible now," Black said. "I think he has paid. He lost everything and he's sitting before you asking for mercy."
When given a chance to speak to the judge, DiCenzo received permission to remain seated, a cane by his side.
"I'm really going to be brief because honestly I don't have a lot to say other than I'm sorry," DiCenzo told the judge, before going on to apologize to Greylock, to family members and to friends. He said he'd lost contact with many.
"They gave me a position of trust and I betrayed that," he said of Greylock.
Mastroianni twice granted requests in August to seal sentencing documents detailing DiCenzo's physical condition, though Black later summarized his client's medical problems in open court. Black said DiCenzo engaged in the fraud to come up with money to pay, repeatedly, for drug rehab for a close relative.
Steven H. Breslow, the assistant U.S. attorney who first interviewed DiCenzo in 2010, soon after his firing from Greylock, confirmed to the judge that financial pressures stemming from a family member's opiate addiction are common.
"We see this every day in federal courts — the insidious influence of dangerous and highly addictive drugs on an individual and then on a family and on a community," Breslow said. "It really upended their family."
That family, including DiCenzo's ex-wife, rallied to attend an August court hearing. Black said proceeds from the fraud were used in part to pay for as many as 10 live-in rehabilitation stays at a cost of $15,000 each. "That became the prime motivator for this crime," Black said.
The ill-gotten gains did not fuel a lavish lifestyle, Black argued, though he conceded some money was used to pay expenses for a child's wedding.
"He was taking that money and using it for rehab," the lawyer said.
As the family's financial circumstances worsened, DiCenzo failed to qualify for a mortgage and didn't have a place to live, Black said.
"It really does destroy the family," DiCenzo said.
"You can imagine the shame he's living under," his attorney added. "People won't talk to him. This was a good man — is a good man — who I think got sucked in and went astray, and that's all I'm going to say."
After hearing Black's appeal for mercy, Mastroianni wanted proof. Could the family produce receipts for the rehab bills? he asked. No, Black said.
"We had a flood," DiCenzo said from his seat in court.
From the bench, Mastroianni heard Black say again his client had "lost everything." The judge had reread the file and recalled that an investigation commissioned by the credit union concluded that DiCenzo masterminded the fraud — and the judge raised the question in court.
DiCenzo's attorney argued the internal probe didn't interview his client, who he said was its target from the start. That drew support even from Breslow, the assistant U.S. attorney. His office talked to both men, suggesting his side's probe went deeper, providing a "broader and better view."
Breslow reminded Mastroianni that in Pierce's case, when the findings of the internal investigation were raised, he refuted the idea that the crime was all DiCenzo's doing, even while acknowledging that because DiCenzo abused his "position of trust" at the credit union, he should be seen as more culpable. A former federal prosecutor questioned why Pierce should pay for actions guided by DiCenzo.
Mastroianni appeared to be thinking the same thing. "How does this happen without Mr. DiCenzo?" the judge asked.
Blame aside, in terms of punishment, Breslow said he hopes a sentence demonstrates that people who cooperate with prosecutors are rewarded. He said DiCenzo stood ready to testify against Pierce, which is why his sentencing was postponed for years as a case developed against Pierce.
"Mr. DiCenzo sat patiently as we met with him again and again to determine the nature of the fraud," Breslow said. "He knew exactly what he had done when the agents talked to him and he readily accepted it."
Mastroianni observed that, when it comes to fixing the narrative on a joint crime, timing matters. An advantage may have gone to DiCenzo through his early cooperation after the fraud was uncovered.
"I mean, to some extent it's who gets to who first, at least the way I'm looking at it," Mastroianni said.
He cautioned the defendant that he is not inclined to grant a request to receive a sentence of probation alone. He asked in August for evidence from caregivers of DiCenzo's medical condition and said, not for the first time in the two cases, that he remained puzzled over where the $4 million went.
Black pointed to the rehab costs and attempts to pay down debts the DiCenzo family faced. In the Pierce case, the judge had heard that loans were used to build houses and pay interest, as well as kickbacks to the banker.
"Any way I go now is not going to be easy on Mr. DiCenzo," Mastroianni said. "Right now I'm not close to your probation sentence in my mind. I'm not telling you I won't get there. I just need more medical information."
Though Black had submitted 20 pages of medical records, the judge said in August he wants to hear from doctors about what lies ahead for DiCenzo, given his many ailments. He said the court would cover costs related to producing detailed narrative reports from medical providers.
And as for the money, Mastroianni asked Black for at least "a rough outline" of where it all went.
A later hearing Oct. 31 did not result in sentencing. That could come at or after a scheduled Jan. 30 court session.
Black represented DiCenzo for nine years but retired after the August hearing. The former banker is now represented by Thomas J. O'Connor of Springfield, another court-appointed lawyer.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.