Pittsfield builder loses quest to change plea in Greylock loan fraud case

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SPRINGFIELD — An 11th-hour attempt to tell his story to a judge or jury came up short Monday for a Pittsfield builder accused of financial fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied a request that Jeffrey Pierce be allowed to step away from a plea agreement and to stand trial for allegedly defrauding the Greylock Federal Credit Union more than a decade ago.

Mastroianni ruled from the bench Monday that Pierce and his attorney, Lori H. Levinson of Great Barrington, did not meet a burden to show that the plea agreement the builder agreed to in June 2018 was fair or unjust.

Mastroianni said that while an accounting firm's outside review laid blame for the fraud on the doorstep of the lender, not the borrower, that report had been available to the defense at the time Pierce voluntarily entered into the plea deal and could have led him to fight the charges.

"I'm disappointed that we will not have an opportunity to present a full defense," Levinson said after hearing the judge's ruling.

Pierce is now scheduled to be sentenced at 11 a.m. Aug. 9.

"Obviously we will be stressing all the exculpatory evidence that we have in hopes of a mitigated sentence," Levinson said.

When he returns to court in August, Pierce will be back where he stood April 5, when he appeared to be sentenced. In June 2018, Pierce had accepted responsibility for two charges. One was conspiracy to commit receipt of money through transactions of a federal credit union with intent to defraud. The other was related to making false statements.

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The government claims loans given to Pierce in the century's first decade cost the Pittsfield institution $3.55 million.

But at that April appearance, Mastroianni questioned Pierce about the nature of his plea, in light of claims in a filing by Levinson that her client was manipulated by former Greylock executive Michael DiCenzo and deserved a lenient sentence — probation alone, not the 46 months in jail recommended by the government.

"Is he guilty?" Mastroianni asked Levinson in court April 5, in a development the judge termed "highly irregular" for a scheduled sentencing. Six days later, Levinson filed a request for a partial plea change, a move considered rare and difficult to achieve, given that defendants who enter into plea agreements waive their rights to trial.

Pierce does not dispute that he made false statements after Greylock, in 2009, uncovered the bad loans made by DiCenzo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow opposed the attempt by Pierce to withdraw his plea agreement, saying the deal was reached fairly. "Mr. Pierce [pleaded] guilty because he was guilty," Breslow said in court. "He agreed to every fact in this case."

In a 27-page motion filed this spring, Breslow said federal courts have long held the line on defendants who attempt to change guilty pleas, particularly many months after entering them.

DiCenzo pleaded guilty to nine criminal counts in 2014 and awaits sentencing.

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


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