On the obstruction count alone, Kamholz faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He also left the courtroom without addressing the media.
Both defendants were also found guilty of counts 17 through 19, which deal with the plant's unpermitted storage of hazardous waste next to two large deteriorating coal tanks, the unpermitted disposal of hazardous waste, as well as prohibited treatment and disposal of the waste.
"From the evidence of this case, where literally hundreds of tons of coke oven gas containing benzene was released into the atmosphere and significant quantities of hazardous waste containing benzene were left out in the open, it would be hard to imagine a more callous disregard for the health and well being of the citizens of this community," U.S. Attorney William Hochul said in a statement after the verdict.
And those citizens of the community were the ones who began the fight against Tonawanda Coke almost 10 years ago. The federal trial has even been recognized as the result of locals' grassroots work to improve air quality and crack down on the plant.
And on Thursday, it was time for those organizers to celebrate. After the verdict was announced, Erin Heaney, director of the Clean Air Coalition, hugged Mango and thanked him for his work.
"He and the Department of Justice worked their butts off to make this day possible," Heaney said. "We now feel vindicated, we feel like government can work sometimes."
Heaney said that, for once, coalition members who live near the plant are hopeful.
"It is somewhat of a unique feeling for them," she said.
Jackie James-Creedon, the founder of the Clean Air Coaliton, was also quite emotional following Thursday's verdict.
"This is a message to all industrial factories that emit harmful materials that the onus is on them, and not the Environmental Protection Agency or the DEC" to follow the law. "But do we wish those agencies would have done more? Yes. We do. " she said.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150