If prosecutors can prove their case and others familiar with Knight Oil Tools are correct, this reads like a script pulled from a TV crime drama: filthy rich oil man whose powerful position at the company is being threatened takes a drastic step to get a family member out of the way.
Last year, about the time Knight Oil Tools Vice President Bryan Knight was fed up with the runaway spending of his older brother, Mark Knight — who was then the president and CEO of the massive oilfield services firm — the elder Knight concocted a way to get some of the heat off of himself. According to local police officials, Mark Knight, under immense pressure from his family members and non-family key executives over how he was running the company, instead put the heat on his brother, allegedly conspiring with a Knight Oil Tools employee and two law enforcement officials — whom he supposedly paid $100,000 — to set Bryan up for a drug bust.
About 5:47 p.m. on June 4, when agent Jason Herpin of the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force — acting on an anonymous tip — pulled Bryan Knight over in his white Cadillac Escalade (supposedly due to a turn signal violation and expired inspection sticker) Herpin noticed Bryan’s “nervous behaviour” (we’ve heard that before), according to the arrest affidavit. Herpin then obtained written permission to search the vehicle, and underneath the car he found two plastic containers that had been magnetically attached to Bryan Knight’s vehicle. Inside the containers Herpin found 25 Lortab pills with a street value of $250, 25 methadone tablets with a street value of $250 and about 3 grams of powder cocaine with a street value of $300. Bryan Knight also had three Lortabs in his pants pocket. Herpin advised Knight of his Miranda Rights and arrested him.
According to the arrest affidavit, Bryan Knight, 56, told Herpin he had loaned the vehicle to a friend and believed the friend had set him up. We can only surmise that Herpin immediately blew that claim off. He’s probably heard it a thousand times.
This time, however, Bryan Knight was telling the truth, according to local officials, who dropped a bombshell Sunday night when they accused Bryan’s older brother of the crime. In a joint press release, Louisiana State Police and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office laid out their case against Mark Knight — who was fired as president and CEO of the company in recent months for reasons apparently unrelated to this matter but as of January was still chairman of its board — and three others, Knight Oil Tools employee Russell Manuel, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kinch (who was assigned to the Metro Narcotics Task Force) and State Trooper Corey Jackson.
The charges against Bryan Knight (one of three Knight siblings sources close to Knight Oil Tools say was never actually involved in running the company) were declined by the district attorney’s office in December, says Maj. Art Lebreton of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office. Lebreton, who does not believe the drugs on Bryan Knight himself were planted, confirms to ABiz that Bryan had a prescription for Lortab. Lebreton referred ABiz’s questions about the handling of the initial narcotics charges to 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes, who says they were declined because of “insufficient evidence.”
After receiving a tip in March that the arrest had been staged, the sheriff’s office found enough evidence to warrant a full investigation, Lebreton says, which uncovered that the magnetic cases had been purchased by Knight Oil Tools at the request of Manuel, the company’s property manager who answered directly to Mark Knight. “Investigators compared images of the unique cases which are manufactured to house GPS tracking devices to the cases recovered during the arrest of Bryan Knight and found them to be identical to those purchased by the company,” law enforcement officials write in the press release. “This information together with other electronic media, specifically e-mails and text messages, to and from Russell Manual’s [sic] cell phone corroborated that Russell Manual [sic] participated in a scheme to place drugs on Bryan Knight’s vehicle and to call law enforcement to arrange for the stop and arrest of Bryan Knight.”
Officials also discovered that Mark Knight had allegedly paid Kinch and Jackson (or had arranged to pay them) $100,000 in cash and gifts to ensure his brother’s unlawful arrest. A warrant for racketeering was issued for Mark Knight, who so far has not been located, Lebreton tells ABiz. A source with information on the case says Mark Knight has retained attorney Mike Skinner, who could not be immediately reached for comment.
Lebreton would not comment on what two sources close to the company surmise was Mark Knight’s likely motive: to get his brother out of the way so Mark could preserve his own powerful position at the company. Lebreton would only say the motive was “financial.”
Arrest warrants for racketeering with $100,000 bonds were issued by the 15th Judicial District Court for both Kinch and Jackson, and both were arrested over the weekend and placed on administrative leave from their respective jobs.
Manuel faces charges of criminal conspiracy, possession of cocaine, possession of Lortab, possession of methadone, extortion and intimidating a witness. As of noon Monday he had not turned himself in.
Although the investigation is continuing, Lebreton says there is no reason to believe any additional Knight family members were involved. “At this point there are no additional suspects,” he says.
Some who know 57-year-old Mark Knight can’t help but reflect not only on the seriousness of the charges but also the irony of a public spectacle for a man who fiercely guarded his privacy.
Mark Knight’s fall from grace means he is no longer running the company his late father founded in 1972, and now staring down a charge that could put him away for up to 50 years, according to Stutes.