BUFFALO — BUFFALO — Twelve jurors granted thousands of local residents a measure of vindication Thursday when they found Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager guilty of illegally dumping acrid, cancer-causing toxins — ton after ton, year after year — into the air they breathe.
"It is a tremendous verdict for the United States ... and the community," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango, who prosecuted the case, said. "This company violated environmental laws. They put materials into the air that shouldn't have been in the air, and they dumped hazardous waste onto the ground that shouldn't have been on the ground."
Tonawanda Coke was found guilty on 14 of the 19 counts levied, while the plant's environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, was found guilty for the same 14 violations, as well as an obstruction of justice charge — meaning that he acted to "influence, obstruct or impede the due administration of justice" prior to a 2009 Environmental Protection Agency inspection.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison for Kamholz and fines in excess of $200 million. Judge William Skretny, who presided over the trial, will sentence the coke-making corporation and Kamholz July 15.
The jury delivered their verdict after five-and-half hours of deliberation and more than a month of extremely technical, sometimes baffling testimony in a case that, according to prosecutors, is just the second trial to focus on the Clean Air Act's air pollution regulation of major industrial businesses. The landmark verdict immediately sets a precedent for any number of environmental cases to come, lawyers said.
Both defendants were found guilty of the indictment's first five counts, for operating with an unpermitted emissions source in violation of the Clean Air Act, from 2005 until 2009. One witness testified that the valve emitted 173 tons of coke oven gas per year — acrid smelling, cancer-causing chemicals that sometimes literally rained down on homes and businesses in the area.