Skip to main content
Press Release

Court Of Appeals Affirms Tonawanda Coke Convictions

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York

CONTACT:      Barbara Burns
PHONE:         (716) 843-5817
FAX:            (716) 551-3051
BUFFALO, N.Y. — U. S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed the convictions and sentence of the Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC). TCC was convicted of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by a federal jury in March 2013, was sentenced to pay a $12.5 million fine and five years probation during which they would have to fund two community service projects at a cost of $12.2 million.

“Today’s decision by the Court of Appeals represents a complete victory for the community and country,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “No one should be allowed to intentionally poison the public, and our prosecutions of both Tonawanda Coke and Mark Kamholz make this abundantly clear.  Second, this Office will pursue all available means to remedy the harm caused by the actions of criminals of any type, whether individual or corporate.”

Tonawanda Coke Environmental Control Manager, Mark L. Kamholz was convicted of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act, one count of obstruction of justice and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and was sentenced to 12 months in prison and a $20,000 fine. Kamholz however did not appeal his conviction.

The charges involved Tonawanda Coke releasing coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve. In addition, a coke-quenching tower was operated without baffles, a pollution control device required by TCC’s Title V Clean Air Act permit designed to reduce the particulate matter that is released into the air during coke quenches.  
Prior to an inspection conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April of 2009, defendant Kamholz told another TCC employee to conceal the fact that the unreported pressure relief valve, during normal operations, emitted coke oven gas directly into the air, in violation of the TCC’s operating permit.
The defendants also stored and disposed of hazardous waste without a permit to do so, in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These offenses related to TCC’s management of hazardous materials on the ground next to two large deteriorating tanks, and TCC’s practice of mixing its coal tar sludge, a listed hazardous waste that is toxic for benzene, on the ground in violation of hazardous waste regulations.
“The Court’s affirmance is also significant for two other reasons,” Hochul continued.  “The prosecution of Tonawanda Coke and Mark Kamholz represents only the second time in the nation’s history that a jury convicted for a violation of the Clean Air Act.  This law was passed by Congress in 1970.  Second, a sentence which includes financing of a public health study represents the first time in this District that such a remedy was sought by the Office, and ordered by the Court.”   

On appeal, the Government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Arbab from the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango and Senior Counsel Rocky Piaggione.

Updated January 12, 2016