Lafayette Sheriff: Scheme to set up oil company owner in drug bust falls apart; warrant issued for brother; deputy, State Policeman arrested _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Knight Oil Tools office in Lafayette.

Detectives believe 57-year-old Mark Knight, the former CEO of Lafayette-based Knight Oil Tools and the first-born son of the company’s founder, spent a lot of money last year to frame his only brother on drug charges.

They say some of the money paid for advice from two now-jailed police officers who allegedly offered tips on how to make sure the victim, Bryan Knight, was arrested with illegal drugs. Some of the cash paid for the drugs and also two magnetized containers that were filled with cocaine and prescription drugs and attached to the undercarriage of Bryan Knight’s vehicle, where tipped-off police found the illegal substances on June 4, before hauling the younger Knight to jail, authorities suspect.

“We believe the entire operation … cost Mark Knight in excess of $100,000,” said Maj. Art LeBreton, who is chief deputy for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.

State Police and sheriff’s officials Monday continued to hold a warrant for Mark Knight’s arrest on racketeering counts, LeBreton said. According to Louisiana’s laws, a conviction on one count of racketeering can bring up to 50 years in prison at hard labor, along with a fine of up to $1 million.

“(Knight’s) whereabouts are unknown. We don’t think he’s in town,” LeBreton said. “I don’t expect to see him today.”

He said detectives do not believe Knight is a flight risk, and that he will turn himself in soon to law enforcement on racketeering counts.

Asked if detectives had any clue why Knight would frame his brother, LeBreton said only that it was due to “finances.”

It was unknown Monday if Mark Knight has retained an attorney in the case.

Knight in January resigned as chief executive and president of Knight Oil Tools, according to a company-issued release. Knight said in a statement to TheInd.com that he would stay on as chairman of the board “so that I can focus on strategic initiatives.” The statement also introduced a new president for the privately held company, Earl J. Blackwell, who had been Knight Oil Tools’ senior vice president of finance since 2014.

Blackwell did not return a message left with his office Monday.

State Police and the Sheriff’s Office in a joint news release Sunday evening claimed Mark Knight worked with Knight Oil employee Russell Manuel to frame Bryan Knight, who is 56. The statement said Manuel instructed another Knight employee to purchase the containers containing the drugs, and that detectives found emails and text messages that linked Manuel to the scheme.

Manuel also allegedly called in the tip to police, which led to an agent with the Lafayette Metro Task Force stopping Bryan Knight as he traveled on West Bayou Parkway at 5:47 p.m. on June 4.

The called-in drug tip wasn’t mentioned in the affidavit used in Bryan Knight’s arrest in June. In the sworn statement, Metro Task Force Agent Jason Herpin said he stopped Knight’s white Cadillac Escalade because of a turn signal violation and an expired inspection sticker. Herpin also said Knight appeared nervous before giving police permission to search the vehicle. Herpin said he found two containers attached with a magnetic strip on the vehicle’s underside, which contained Lortab pills, methadone tablets and three grams of powder cocaine worth about $300. Police later found three more Lortabs in Knight’s pants pocket.

“Mr. Knight advised he let his friend use his vehicle and believes his friend set him up,” Metro Agent Mario Gamez said in the affidavit.

Detectives now believe two law enforcement officers also helped Mark Knight set his brother up. Last weekend, State Trooper Corey Jackson and Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force Deputy Jason Kinch were arrested on racketeering counts for allegedly being part of the scheme. Police said both men offered expert advice on how to set Bryan Knight up.

“… Two law enforcement agents were consulted to provide specific information to enhance the possibilities of Bryan Knight’s unlawful arrest,” according to the sworn statements used in Kinch and Jackson’s arrests. The document also states that Kinch received $10,000 in cash plus gifts for his alleged contributions, and that Jackson got $5,000 and gifts.

Both men received the purported payoffs “directly or indirectly from Mark Knight and Russell Manuel, who were acting as agents of Knight Oil Tools … to ultimately have Bryan Knight unlawfully arrested,” the affidavit states.

Kinch and Jackson on Monday remained in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, where both faced bail that was set at $100,000.

Manuel faces counts of criminal conspiracy, possession of cocaine, possession of Lortab, possession of methadone, extortion and intimidating a witness, police said.

“(Manuel’s) not been difficult to find,” LeBreton said. “We’ve been in communication with him as well as his attorney.”

Pat Magee, Manuel’s attorney and a former Lafayette Parish prosecutor, said Monday that “My client is cloaked in the veil of innocence in the American justice system.”

Magee declined further comment.

Knight Oil Tools is a privately held, 43-year-old company that was started by Mark and Bryan Knight’s father, Eddy Knight, who died in 2002. The company does business domestically and internationally, according to its website.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was modified on April 23, 2015, to correct the spelling of Russell Manuel.