PITTSFIELD — Though it's been years since John Pucci oversaw the U.S. Attorney's Office in Springfield, he keeps an eye on cases before U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni.

Today, he is speaking out against the government's handling of a case involving a Berkshire County man.

Pucci, who oversaw the federal prosecutor's office in Springfield from 1990 to 1994, questions why the government seeks to put Jeffrey Pierce, a Pittsfield builder, in jail for nearly four years in connection with fraudulent loans made by Greylock Federal Credit Union more than a decade ago.

And he wonders why the government is holding Pierce to account for crimes that a forensic accounting firm determined were orchestrated by Michael DiCenzo, the Greylock loan executive.

"Forty-six months in jail will likely destroy Pierce and devastate his family," Pucci told The Eagle, after reading the newspaper's coverage of the case and deciding to make his views public. "The government's insistence on this under the circumstances is unreasonable. It may be what the guideline says. It seems to me unreasonable."

Pucci's comments come as Mastroianni prepares to rule on whether Pierce can withdraw part of a guilty plea he entered last June, a move opposed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow. A hearing is set for Wednesday morning.

Kristina Mastropasqua, a spokeswoman the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment on Pucci's criticism.

DiCenzo had faced sentencing Wednesday for his role in the Greylock fraud, which the government claims cost the credit union $3.55 million. DiCenzo's court date was canceled Tuesday with no new appearance scheduled. His sentencing has been postponed at least 10 times since he entered guilty pleas in 2014.

Because federal judges question defendants closely, the pleas they allow them to enter don't often change.

In the Pierce case, Mastroianni renewed questions about the man's guilty pleas during what was to have been his sentencing April 5. That process led Pierce and his attorney, Lori H. Levinson, of Great Barrington, to notify the court in late April that he would seek to withdraw his plea of guilty to a charge of conspiring to defraud Greylock.

"It is very unusual that someone goes through that and enters a plea and does an about-face," Pucci said. "I cannot recall anything similar in my 39 years of experience in the federal criminal justice system."

For judges, a development like this requires vigilance to ensure a just sentence or other outcome.

"It heightens the scrutiny that you're going to bring," said Pucci, who in 1991 won the Department of Justice's Distinguished Service Award.

Pucci is a partner with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas LLP. He was one of a dozen people selected by Gov. Charlie Baker to recruit candidates for vacancies on the state's Supreme Judicial Court. Pucci has also served on panels to recommend appointments to federal judgeships as well as offices of the U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal for Massachusetts, according to a biography provided by his law firm.

Other professional work includes service from 1997 to 2013 as a member of the governing board for the Criminal Justice Act, which seeks to ensure representation for indigent defendants.

Pucci said Mastroianni's handling of the Pierce case shows his willingness to take the time needed. "Judge Mastroianni has a track record of not rushing them," Pucci said of federal cases. "He is not going to impose a sentence if he can't sleep at night with it."

At the April 5 hearing, the judge said he needed to question Pierce again — as he did the June before — to be sure he wasn't sentencing an innocent person. In a sentencing memo, Levinson had argued that DiCenzo took advantage of Pierce — the same finding reached by the firm hired by the credit union in 2010 to look into loans DiCenzo made to Pierce from 2005 to 2008.

"We have concluded that DiCenzo exercised dominion and control over Pierce," reads a report by Sobel & Co., the accounting firm.

That view was later backed up by Charles Bercury, a former chief loan officer at Greylock. "My personal feeling then and now was that Pierce was not involved in the embezzlement," Bercury wrote in a letter submitted to the court by Pierce's lawyer this spring. "I strongly feel that Pierce was an unwitting victim of a dishonest lender who preyed upon his total trust."

Pucci flags the Sobel & Co. report as an important document that should have played a greater role in influencing the government's decisions in the Greylock case.

"No matter which side you believe, the banking officer was the creator of the scheme," Pucci said. "When an independent examination of the matter, like by Sobel in this case, has concluded that the defendant is a victim rather than a perpetrator, the court has to pay attention. Such an examination is very rare. It matters a great deal that it was independent."

In his opposition to the plea withdrawal, Breslow, the assistant U.S. attorney, said that if the court allows it, the government would be put at a disadvantage, and that it might lose access to witnesses needed to prosecute the case.

Pucci said that given the timeline on the Greylock investigation, he believes the government undercut its own case. Pierce was first questioned a decade ago, then notified that he was a target in 2012. DiCenzo was charged in 2014.

Another four years went by before Pierce agreed to enter two guilty pleas, one of which he now seeks to withdraw. He is not disputing that he made false statements about the loans, after a probe began, but says he was directed to lie by DiCenzo.

"And now it's complaining that another year pulls the rug out from underneath it?" Pucci asked, speaking of the government. "Where have they been in bringing it to a conclusion? That's the question.

"I'm not impressed with the argument and I don't think the judge will be either. They had total control of the case," Pucci said.

"[The government] is trying to convince the court to impose a sentence based on losses to the bank and ignore the at least mitigating factor of the coercion imposed on Pierce by its own star witness," he said. "Simply stated, that's not justice."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.