If there’s a human face to the Tonawanda Coke trial, it’s Mark L. Kamholz.
It is Kamholz, the company executive in charge of environmental compliance for three decades, who stands accused of trying to hide a little known bleeder valve from government inspectors.
And it is Kamholz, the only individual defendant in the case, who allegedly told a fellow worker not to worry about benzene levels at the Town of Tonawanda plant.
Wednesday, Kamholz’s attorney offered a federal jury a point-by-point rebuttal of the criminal charges that could ultimately send him to prison.
“What the government’s trying to do here just doesn’t wash,” Rodney O. Personius, his defense lawyer, said in his closing summation.
Personius accused the government of trying to “throw some dirt on Mark Kamholz” as part of a legal strategy that portrayed him as sinister and deceitful.
To hear Personius talk, it was Kamholz who ensured that Tonawanda Coke complied with state and federal environmental regulations for nearly 30 years.
And it was Kamholz, he told the jury, who helped pave the way for removal of the controversial bleeder valve and improvements to the plant’s two “quench” or cooling towers.
The valve and towers are at the crux of the government’s prosecution and account for all but three of the 19 felony counts against the company and Kamholz.
Personius said his client’s downfall began with a weeklong inspection in April 2009 that changed how Tonawanda Coke was regulated and ultimately led to the criminal case.
“There was a tsunami change,” Personius said of the 2009 inspection and a change in attitude among state and federal inspectors. “Our position is that just wasn’t fair.”
Personius’ summation was one of the last aspects of a trial that has lasted four weeks and included more than 30 witnesses, many of them former and current Tonawanda Coke employees.
The company is facing 19 charges, most of them violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
Federal prosecutors had the last word Wednesday and used their time to detail Kamholz’s involvement in each of the allegations made by the government.
Prosecutor Rocky J. Piaggione reminded the jury that it was Kamholz who relied on state inspector Gary Foersch missing several important violations at the River Road facility.
“He relied on Mr. Foersch not finding out, on not getting caught,” Piaggione said.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.