CROTON, Ohio -- If Anton Pohlmann's father had his way, the man who made a fortune selling eggs would be a priest.
Plenty of Pohlmann's neighbors would have liked that career outcome as well. For years they've complained about infestations of flies and beetles, powerful odors, polluted creeks and manure spills stemming from his giant chicken operations.
Pohlmann, a 62-year-old German, is a lightning rod in central and northwest Ohio, where he has built one of the nation's largest egg empires. Some neighbors want to bring him down, saying he's a health menace.
Facts and figures
NAME: Anton Pohlmann
OCCUPATION: Owner, Buckeye Egg Farm
HOMETOWN: Riessel, Germany
FAMILY: Married, five children
NET WORTH: $82 million (as of March 2000)
QUOTE: "As long as the population wants to eat fresh eggs and meat, it has to be produced somewhere."
"He's done absolutely nothing for the community except degrade it," said Dan Perkins, who says a creek on his farm near this small town was polluted by a manure spill at Pohlmann's Buckeye Egg Farm. "I would do anything legally to undermine him."
But John Terry, owner of Croton Hardware, said along with providing business for local companies, Pohlmann gives money to local athletics, the fire department and library.
"He does considerably more than people are aware of," he said.
Pohlmann acknowledges that his company has caused problems, but he says he is committed to resolving them.
"There is always room for improvement," he said. "There will be people who complain also."
Pohlmann has been around chickens all of his life -- his father had a small farm that included a hatchery. One of young Anton's jobs was to sell young hens to other farmers, and later he rode his bicycle from one hatchery to another to identify the gender of newborn chicks.
He earned enough to start his own farm with 10,000 chickens when he was 21. That business eventually grew into Europe's largest poultry operation, but he has since been banned for life from owning any livestock in Germany.
In 1996 a German court convicted Pohlmann of cruelty to animals and failing to provide aid to a former employee injured when he used an illegal nicotine-based spray to treat chickens for mites. Pohlmann served seven weeks behind bars and two years on probation and was fined $2 million.
He denied any wrongdoing, and believes his success was partly the reason he got into trouble.
"It created a lot of jealousy and a lot of confrontations on the political side," he said.
Pohlmann started in the United States in 1976, and two years later, he bought his first farm in Croton, about 20 miles northeast of Columbus.
Buckeye Egg, formerly known as AgriGeneral Corp., produced 2.6 billion eggs last year, about 4 percent of the national total.
"I like America always," he said. "It is more business-oriented."
Pohlmann's defenders say those who have recently moved to the country have unrealistic expectations of an agriculture area.
"They want to move to 'Green Acres'," said Terry, owner of the hardware store. "Out here in the country, it's just not that way."
In March, Buckeye Egg settled a lawsuit with the state that accused the company of dumping dead chickens in a field, polluting creeks and causing infestations of flies, beetles and other insects. The settlement required Buckeye Egg to pay $1 million in fines and to upgrade much of its operations.
But just two months later, Buckeye Egg was back in court after the state filed a contempt charge accusing the company of being responsible for a spring fly outbreak, improper handling of wastewater and not keeping adequate records.
Now the state wants corporate officials to serve time in jail. The judge hearing the case has yet to rule.
"We're talking about repeated thumbing of the nose to the court and agreed-upon orders filed with the court," said Stephanie Beougher, a spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general's office.
Pohlmann blames much of the trouble here on his managers. He said he has spent more time in the United States since 1996 and that things are getting better.
"Hindsight is always smarter. Maybe I should have been more involved at an earlier time," he said.
The legal problems come at a difficult time for the company. Chief operating officer William Glass testified in the contempt case that the company lost $9.6 million in 2000.
Pohlmann agrees that the company lost a lot of money in 1999 and 2000, results he blamed on low egg prices while he was spending heavily to double Buckeye Egg's production.
He said he has sold 5,000 acres in the Croton area, and that his 288-acre estate outside Columbus is on the block -- asking price is $10 million.
Pohlmann said the property sales shouldn't be construed that he is preparing to pack up and leave town.
"I'm focusing on my company, to survive with my company," he said.
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