The detailed arrest affidavit of former Knight Oil Tools property manager Russell Manuel is so peppered with red flags about the June 2014 drug bust of Bryan Knight that it can lead to only one conclusion: Any number of people knew long before the critical March 9 tip — the one that led straight to Bryan’s older brother, Mark Knight — that the younger Knight was telling the truth when he claimed to have been framed.
Bryan Knight’s criminal defense attorney, Alfred Boustany, says Assistant District Attorney Richard Weimer, after reviewing the case, refused in January to charge his client. “I think it was handled appropriately,” Boustany tells ABiz. Boustany says because the case was “very suspicious,” he believes the wheels of an inquiry into whether Bryan was set up were in motion before the March 9 tip from an unidentified Knight Oil Tools employee led to arrest warrants for Mark Knight, Manuel and two members of the local law enforcement community.
“But I don’t know that for a fact,” Boustany adds.
Weimer was not immediately available Monday to confirm what, if any, action he took to investigate Bryan Knight’s claims, but there is a lot we do know from the arrest report for 47-year-old Manuel, who was booked and released Friday after posting $100,000 bail. He is facing charges of criminal conspiracy, possession of cocaine, possession of methadone, possession of Lortabs, witness intimidation and extortion.
The sworn March 13 statement by Lafayette Sheriff’s Department Captain Kip Judice, who is heading the investigation, formed the basis for the arrest report, officially called the affidavit for warrant of arrest. Released Friday, it has many new details not included in the arrest affidavits for Mark Knight and the two law enforcement officials.
In the statement, Judice said he was told by an unnamed employee at the company that Manuel was not only former Knight Oil Tools President and CEO Mark Knight’s right-hand-man but also the then-chief executive’s “henchman.” The affidavit indicates that at the direction of Mark Knight, Manuel approached the unnamed employee (the male employee’s name is redacted from the affidavit) and asked that employee to purchase a vehicle tracking device and secondary battery pack from an online company and have it delivered to Knight Oil Tools (read ABiz's original story here).
The employee, who tipped Judice to the alleged framing on March 9 after Manuel allegedly threatened his life, said the device and battery were enclosed in a case with a large heavy magnet attached to it. The unnamed employee said he gave the case to Manuel and only later learned that the tracking device was placed on Bryan Knight’s vehicle.
The employee says Manuel asked for two more devices with magnetic cases and told the employee to code them as “quality” rather than the normal coding for this type of purchase. The employee claims Manuel talked of an “operation” and indicated to the employee that a state trooper and Metro Narcotics agent were both involved, using the initials CJ and TD for the state troopers and "Jason" as his contact for Metro Narcotics, according to the affidavit. It was later revealed that the CJ stood for State Trooper Corey Jackson and Jason was Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kinch, who was on the Metro Narcotics Task Force; both were arrested in the case and like Mark Knight are charged with racketeering, which carries a sentence of up to 50 years and a fine of up to $1 million. Both of the officers are on administrative leave without pay from their respective jobs. It is unknown who TD stands for or what Manuel meant by TD.
The affidavit states that in April 2014 Manuel introduced Jackson to the unnamed employee and instructed the employee to set up a Knight Oil Tools email account for the state trooper. On June 4, Manuel told the employee that the operation had been successful and instructed the employee to delete all records of the tracking and ask the tracking company to do the same. The employee later learned that Bryan Knight had been arrested on June 4, according to the affidavit.
Bryan Knight, now 56, was arrested in June 2014 after being pulled over for failure to use a signal light, though it’s clear from the affidavit law enforcement was acting on “several anonymous phone calls placed to Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force which were answered by Sergeant Nicholas Latiolais ... reporting that Bryan Knight was going back and forth under his vehicle and retrieving what was believed to be drugs.” Latiolais had ordered surveillance of Bryan Knight’s vehicle that was parked in the 1000 Block of Coolidge Street, according to the affidavit, which does not indicate what, if anything, the surveillance revealed. Let’s call that Red Flag No. 1. Who goes back and forth to a vehicle and crawls underneath it every time he wants a pill?
After pulling Bryan over, agent Jason Herpin of the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force found hidden in small boxes underneath his vehicle cocaine (three grams), methadone (25 pills) and Lortabs 25 (pills). Bryan also allegedly had Lortab pills in his pants pocket but had a prescription for them. Herpin was assisted in the arrest of Bryan Knight by agent Mario Gamez. Red flag No. 2: Who hides Lortabs under his car when he has a prescription for them?
What is now becoming much clearer is 57-year-old Mark Knight’s apparent motive: Bryan Knight was arrested after leaving a mediation session with his civil attorney over ownership rights to Knight Oil Tools, according to Manuel’s arrest affidavit, which states that Bryan told officers that he “was in a contentious battle with family members over business dealings at Knight Oil Tools.” What’s perplexing, however, is the arrest affidavit for Bryan Knight from 2014 does not mention one word of the meeting with his attorney nor does it include any reference to a battle with family members. Instead, the 2014 affidavit states that Bryan Knight told officers he had loaned his Cadillac Escalade to a friend and thought the friend may have set him up.
What ABiz has reported is that family members and non-family executives of the oilfield services company had for some time been trying to remove Mark Knight from his position as president and CEO, largely because of what has been called the former CEO’s runaway spending habits. In December they succeeded, and last week — following Mark Knight’s arrest in this case — they also removed him as chairman of the board and as a director of the board. Mark is no longer involved in the operations of the company that he took over after his father, Eddy, died in 2002 — the company Mark Knight was largely responsible for building into the mega oilfield services entity it is today. ABiz sources with general knowledge of Knight Oil Tools, which does not publicly disclose any of its financial information, believe it is likely the largest privately held company in the Acadiana region.
It’s unclear whether Bryan Knight is still considered an employee of the company. Sources tell ABiz Bryan — who once held the title of vice president, according to an archive of the company’s website — never actually had job responsibilities.
Though suspicions surely were running high among those familiar with the case about who might have framed Bryan Knight, officials say the big break came March 9, when the unnamed employee contacted Judice with a story that must have blown the mind of the nearly 30-year veteran of the sheriff’s department (who takes over as chief of the Duson Police Department May 1 and will hand this case over to a secondary investigator who has been working it with him).
According to the affidavit, three days before the employee came forward, Manuel was let go from Knight Oil Tools for reasons not disclosed in the affidavit. At that time, according to the affidavit, Manuel contacted the employee and told him to keep his mouth shut about the “operation.” Manuel said that “CJ and Jason” considered the employee a liability and threatened him and his family if he talked about Manuel’s or Mark Knight’s involvement. On March 6, the employee said he saw Manuel loading some personal items into his own car in the Knight Oil Tools parking lot and then noticed that Manuel was following him. When the employee came to a red light at Pinhook and Verot School roads, Manuel knocked on the driver’s door window; when the employee rolled down his window, Manuel dropped two pieces of paper onto his lap, according to the affidavit.
On one page was a screen shot of an i-message between the employee and his current supervisor where the employee confirms that not all of the files associated with the “operation” were deleted, and the second page was a typed note threatening the life of the employee, as well as the lives of his wife and child, along with a reference to law enforcement officials being paid “to assist Manuel in his mission.” The second note also listed the employee’s home address and advised him not to leave his attic door open, all in apparent attempt to intimidate the employee by letting him know he was being watched.
But Manuel allegedly wasn’t just angling to shut the employee up. Investigator Judice hand-wrote on the affidavit that the same note threatened harm to the employee if Manuel did not receive money he was demanding.
A phone call from Judice led to even more threats, allegedly resulting in two text messages to the employee within minutes of the call from the investigator. On March 12 at 9:07 a.m., Manuel texted the employee, according to the affidavit: “if you f--- with me in any way shape or form you will be in a bind !! If something happens to me others will be there, 208 manning nice neighbor hood B. You helped get my sister fired now me. Not nice.”
The second text simply read, “Touche.”