Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — At a town assembly Monday night that drew more than 150 people, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango encouraged those locals affected by Tonawanda Coke’s federal crimes to apply to be classified as victims.
“The point is — we want you to be heard,” he said. “We need people to tell the judge what the seriousness of this case is.”
Mango and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rocky Piaggione, who prosecuted the case against the River Road coal-burning facility, have asked U.S. District Judge William Skretny to consider residents as victims pursuant to the Crime Victims Rights Act, which, they argue, “was designed to protect victims and guarantee them some involvement in the criminal justice process.”
They are also arguing that a sentencing hearing should be held to allow members of the community to testify about the harm they suffered.
Last year, a federal jury found the plant and Kamholz guilty of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act. They face a maximum sentence of more than $200 million in fines and 75 years in prison for Kamholz.
Sentencing of Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager is set for March 19, but the judge has not ruled on the prosecutors’ motions — and there is no guarantee that Skretny will agree with the government’s approach and classify residents as victims.
To apply to be a victim, locals must have been “directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense.” Mango said that he’s not imposing any geographical restrictions on those who wish to apply, but those interested should have lived or worked in the area between 2005 and 2009.
“If you believe you have inhaled pollution from the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, then we are telling you we believe you are a victim,” Mango said at the event, which was held at the Sheridan Parkside Community Center. “If you can’t go outside and spend time in your garden because of smells coming from Tonawanda Coke, that is a harm.”