Mark Knight, the former chief executive of a Lafayette oilfield services company, pleaded no contest Monday to corrupt influencing and public bribery as part of a scheme to set up his brother in a phony 2014 drug bust.
The pleas were part of a deal with District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office, which in turn dropped racketeering charges and agreed not to intervene in a federal civil suit or seek charges on millions of dollars in company funds they say Knight improperly pocketed.
Judge Daniel Smith of the 15th Judicial District Court found Knight guilty of the two charges after Knight entered his pleas. Sentencing is scheduled Dec. 5. Knight faces as much as 15 years in jail and $11,000 in fines.
Prosecutors said Knight enlisted a Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s deputy and a State Police officer to help with the crime, paying them each $10,000 apiece. Knight’s former underling at Knight Oil Tools, Russell Manuel, set up a fraudulent $67,000 invoice to finance the scheme, according to Manuel’s testimony described in court Monday by Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney.
Manuel in 2016 pleaded guilty to four felony charges and will not serve jail time.
The former sheriff’s deputy, Jason Kinch, pleaded guilty to corrupt influencing and public bribery in June. He is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 12. The former state trooper, Corey Jackson, pleaded guilty to malfeasance and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 5.
Knight set up his brother, Bryan Knight, to gain financial control of Knight Oil Tools, according to prosecutors. Mark Knight’s frame job on his brother followed refusals by Bryan Knight and their sister, Kelly Knight, to surrender their controlling interests in the company.
Manuel surveilled Bryan Knight with GPS on Mark Knight’s orders, hoping to catch the brother with illegal substances, according to a factual basis in Manuel’s case. When that failed, Mark Knight ordered Manuel to plant drugs on his brother’s car. With Kinch’s help, Manuel bought cocaine and packaged it into a GPS device they attached to Bryan Knight’s car, according to prosecutors.
With the drugs planted, Kinch and Jackson surveilled Bryan Knight, and Manuel anonymously tipped the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force. Bryan Knight was then arrested during a traffic stop and booked on drug charges that were later dropped. Bryan Knight’s civil suit against his brother and the three other defendants has been frozen while the criminal proceedings play out.
Bryan Knight was indicted on an unrelated drug charge earlier this year and has pleaded not guilty.
The feuding brothers’ father, Eddy Knight, started Knight Oil in 1972, and it became “very profitable” under his leadership, according to Bryan Knight’s civil lawsuit. Mark Knight became the chief executive in 2002 after his father died, and ran it with reckless abandon, the lawsuit alleges.
Prosecutors claimed Mark Knight stole $2.4 million from the company in 2014 by way of scrap pipe sales, then used the proceeds to purchase a 40-acre lot in south Lafayette. Those accusations stem from a Knight Oil internal investigation included in the court record.
The internal investigation also found that Knight had previously used corporate funds for personal expenses.