Longtime David Duke associate accused of running ‘pill mill’ out of New Orleans East pain clinic _lowres

Photo provided by WDSU -- Kenny Knight, former David Duke campaign manager, has been arrested in connection with New Orleans East pill mill.

David Duke's longtime political adviser will follow in the former KKK grand wizard's footsteps to federal prison, a judge decided Thursday.

The judge handed 69-year-old Kenny Knight, a top adviser for Duke's failed run for governor in 1991, a maximum, five-year prison sentence for running a pill mill operation out of a New Orleans East clinic.

U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe rejected a request from Knight's attorneys to cut him a break given his health problems and level of community support.

Knight's backers in court included elderly black and Latino neighbors from Old Jefferson who said he checks in on them and drives them to doctor's visits.

“He’s been there for me,” said 81-year-old Jose Gonzalez. “He’s got a great heart.”

Knight wore a black suit as he pleaded for leniency. Three defendants wearing jail uniforms who had already been sentenced in other cases watched his speech.

"I didn't want to hurt anybody," Knight said. "I pray to the Lord to forgive me and my past sins."

Yet Ashe said none of that meant Knight deserved a downward departure from sentencing guidelines, given the fact that he ran a clinic which dispensed opioid pills for cash — and cash alone.

Knight pleaded guilty to conspiracy to dispense quantities of oxycodone and hydrocodone outside the scope of proper medical practice in January 2017.

Ashe said Knight "played a part, even if it's a small part, in what is a huge crisis in this country."

"The people who aren't in the room are the victims of the opioid crisis. And we haven't even heard from them," Ashe said.

Knight was charged in 2016 with running the Axcess Medical Clinic on Lake Forest Boulevard, which doled out painkillers to patients without medical exams.

Prosecutors said Knight enlisted Dr. Barbara A. Bruce to write the prescriptions. She received a 30-month sentence in November.

At least three fatal overdoses were “associated” with drugs that Bruce prescribed, according to the feds.

After federal investigators began circling the pair, Knight tried to intimidate Bruce and warned her not to talk, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Murphy said.

However, Knight’s lawyers, David Courcelle and Scott Stansbury, said he had cooperated with the government in another investigation after his arrest.

Murphy said the judge should take into account the fact that Knight had already received one break, when the feds opted not to slap him with a separate charge that carries a 20-year maximum sentence.

Knight’s legal troubles echo those of Duke, the former state legislator and Ku Klux Klan leader who tried to become Louisiana's top officeholder in the early 1990s. Duke received a 15-month prison sentence in 2003 after admitting to tax law charges for defrauding followers.

Duke and Knight were both active with the Euro-American Unity and Rights Organization, which was dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It gained some public notice in 2014 when U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise said he had spoken to one of its meetings in 2002. Scalise apologized and said he condemned the group’s views.

In 2017, the SPLC said Knight had drifted to "the shadows of the white supremacist scene."

Editor's Note: A reference to Knight's role in Duke's 1991 gubernatorial campaign was corrected on Feb. 23, 2019. Knight was a top adviser, not the campaign manager.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.