Wichita Officials with Koch Industries Inc. say they will fight charges that the company and some employees covered up environmental problems at a Texas refinery.
The Wichita-based company said Friday that it would vigorously defend itself and four senior employees. The company and employees plan to plead not guilty, Koch spokeswoman Mary Beth Jarvis said.
"Koch believes that these charges are outrageous," she said. "The government has got this one very wrong."
The indictment on Thursday charged Koch Industries, its subsidiary Koch Petroleum Group and four employees with 97 felonies for problems dating to 1995 with the cancer-linked pollutant benzene at a Corpus Christi, Tex., plant.
The company disclosed the problems to Texas regulators and corrected them, but the indictment alleges Koch engaged in a conspiracy and lied to Texas officials.
The employees who were indicted were David Lamp of The Woodlands, Tex., Vincent Mietlicki and James Weathers Jr., both of Andover, and John Wadsworth of Wichita.
The government charges that equipment Koch installed to control benzene at the Corpus Christi plant was inadequate and frequently malfunctioned. It says the company falsified reports and concealed the problem to save money and avoid shutting down the refinery.
Jim Mahoney, senior vice president for operations at Koch Petroleum Group, said the employees are decent, hardworking men.
Mahoney said Koch Industries and its employees corrected the problems and reported the violation to the government.
The Justice Department took issue with that statement.
"Self-disclosure means giving prompt, truthful and complete information to regulators," said David Uhlmann, chief of the Department of Justice's environmental crimes section. "It does not include lying, fraud and cover-up, as this indictment charges."
Hank Schuelke, who represents Weathers, said the government's allegations are "flat wrong and will be demonstrated to be so."
Dick DeGuerin, Lamp's attorney, said his client had been manager at the refinery from November 1991 until June 1994, when he was promoted and moved to Wichita.
In December 1995, Koch sent him back to Corpus Christi to fix the benzene problem, DeGuerin said. "Dave Lamp was part of the solution. Everyone knew that this plant had problems," he said.
Lamp now works for KoSa, which makes polyester and is a joint venture between Koch and the Saba family of Mexico.
The case could go to trial in spring, unless the parties reach a settlement, which appears unlikely. "There is a profound difference between how the government and us view the case," Jarvis said.