Third guilty plea secured in Knight Oil Tools case

The gist: It’s now clear that Mark Knight is the big fish prosecutors want in the Knight Oil Tools racketeering case. As our May reporting indicated was likely to happen, court records now reveal that former Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kinch pleaded guilty in late June to one count of public bribery and one count of corrupt influencing in connection with an alleged plot to frame Mark Knight’s younger brother, Bryan. Kinch had been facing felony racketeering charges in the alleged scheme to plant drugs on Bryan’s car, which ultimately resulted in Bryan’s 2014 drug possession arrest. A former Knight Oil Tools employee, Russell Manuel, has also pleaded guilty to lesser charges, as has former State Trooper Corey Jackson.

What this means: Left to stand trial Aug. 20 for racketeering is 60-year-old Mark Knight, who prosecutors say masterminded the elaborate scheme to retain control of what was then a lucrative family business. Kinch, Manuel and Jackson have all agreed to testify against him. Court filings do reveal that the state offered Mark Knight a plea deal, he countered, and the state rejected.

It’s not looking good for Mark Knight, as prosecutors show more of their hand in recent court filings. In mid-June, Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney filed an amended notice in the case, saying he’ll introduce evidence from a March 2015 Knight Oil Tools internal investigation showing that Mark Knight laundered money, used corporate funds for personal expenses and stole $2.4 million from the company through the sale of scrap pipe and tubing. The riveting report notes that one of the initial companies bidding on the scrap inventory backed out of the deal after seeing a request for payment in “multiple checks,” which is ultimately how the winning bidder paid Mark Knight. The report claims Mark Knight used the proceeds to buy a 40-acre lot near Whole Foods in Lafayette in a cash transaction valued at more than $2 million (Mark denies the connection). The report further details how company executives investigated the sale and took action, forcing Mark Knight to resign as CEO and repay the $2.4 million, money the report states he borrowed from his mother, Ann Knight. Prosecutors have said Mark Knight paid his alleged co-conspirators in cash and gifts, but it’s unclear whether they plan to connect the inventory sale to those payments at trial.