Bryan Knight was already sweating through his rumpled dress shirt when the cops pulled him over.
It was June 4, 2014, and Bryan, then 54 years old, was incredibly stressed out. He had just left a mediation meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana, with his elder brother, Mark; his younger sister, Kelley Sobiesk; and their team of respective lawyers. Mark and Bryan had for a decade been locked in a battle over control of their family company, Knight Oil Tools, the largest privately owned oil-and-gas-equipment-rental company in the world. That might not sound like much to boast about, but the company was worth an estimated $800 million; each sibling was worth over $100 million. The meeting, at which Bryan’s inheritance was at stake, had been contentious, and he found it supremely coincidental that, after pulling him over, the sheriff’s deputy almost immediately asked to search his vehicle.
The deputy had Bryan step out of his crystal-white Cadillac Escalade and quickly rummaged through the interior. He then reached under the driver-side door and retrieved two magnetic cases attached to the undercarriage. He opened them up, found a few grams of cocaine and 50 painkillers, and put Bryan under arrest.
At the parish jail in downtown Lafayette, Bryan was interrogated for over an hour. He was a longtime drug user, even a locally famous one, but he kept insisting, over and over, that the drugs weren’t his. With his phone call, he dialed Kelley, who was at their mother Ann’s house. He knew he had been framed and that his brother had done it.
Looking back on it now, nearly five years later, Bryan can’t readily pinpoint exactly when Mark turned on him. When I visited Lafayette in December, Bryan talked while he gave me a tour of the nearly 100,000-square-foot Knight Oil Tools headquarters, moving with a sluggish gait and favoring his left knee. Bryan will turn 60 in July, and he slurred, rambled, and fidgeted when he spoke, perpetually scatterbrained but trying to focus on the question of just when, and why, his relationship with his brother had soured so biblically. Was it his many decades of drug use and excessive partying, irresponsible and embarrassing behavior for the company and his elder brother, who had been trying to steer the ship forward since their father, Eddy Knight, died in 2002? Maybe the real turn started then, he thought, when Eddy died and Knight Oil Tools was, some years later, inherited in a retrospectively unsustainable three equal parts by his children. Or earlier — say, back in the 1980s, when they were both enrolled at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and didn’t speak to each other.
Or even earlier. When Eddy was starting out, the family traveled a lot, and Mark and Bryan were the perpetual new kids in school. They never really had any friends, which made them targets for bullies. Mark was a few inches taller than Bryan, with the same broad shoulders and round face, but Bryan was the scrappier of the two, and anytime anyone cornered Mark on the playground, threatening to grind dirt into his face, Bryan would be there, protecting his brother and handing out black eyes. The more Bryan thought about it, the more that period shone through the fog of their decades-long troubles: Mark didn’t resent Bryan because Bryan had wasted his own fortune, Bryan felt, but because he’d had to rely on Bryan, his younger brother, to defend him in the schoolyard.
This might strike you as a wildly self-serving theory: that the epic rift tearing apart this preposterously wealthy family was the fault not of the lifelong ne’er-do-well, who’d spent four decades partying his way through a family fortune, but of his outwardly much more responsible and sober brother, who had run the family business for over a decade. More than that: that the responsible, sober one was actually reckless, vindictive, manipulative, and untrustworthy even with those who knew him best. And even more: that the final break came when the supposedly responsible one engineered an elaborate conspiracy to frame his brother involving a henchman and two corrupt cops. That it turns out to be true gives the story of the Knight brothers the irresistible contours of a brotherly parable — a showcase of just how much ornate, paranoid resentment and majestic, unstated anger can pass below the surface in the lives of siblings; how much of that fantasy life can be made real when each rivalrous brother has hundreds of millions of dollars on hand; and how ruthless that rivalry can become among the second-generation inheritors of great wealth, no longer striving to build an empire but only to hold the one they were born into.
As young men, Mark and Bryan idolized their father. Barely five-three in his steel-toed work boots, with a puff of brown hair and sharp blue eyes, Eddy Knight routinely held sales meetings at four o’clock in the morning and didn’t bat an eye when, during work trips in the early days, he was forced to sleep in the closet at his tiny satellite offices. Although Eddy threw on a suit during the week to oversee his company, he put on his boots to hunt duck and deer on the weekends. He flew to Las Vegas with clients, gambled and drank, got great tickets for Rat Pack concerts, and even employed a magician to entertain the group in a sprawling hotel suite. Eddy loved Blue Bell ice cream and would load industrial freezers onto his private jet and fly to Texas to stock up on the dessert, which was not yet available where they lived. One time, after visiting a mall in Atlanta, he couldn’t find his car in the vast parking lot; instead of locating it, he went to a local dealer, bought a new one, and drove home.
From 1975 to 1980, the total number of oil rigs in the United States tripled, and every big-name oil corporation needed equipment to extract the black gold. Lafayette had become Louisiana’s industry centerpiece, with nearly half of its economy coming from oil and gas and more than 500 oil-field-related businesses calling the city home. It even boasted the Petroleum Club, a members-only joint where local oilmen could drink whiskey, smoke cigars, shoot the breeze, and cut deals. Once a sleepy South Louisiana city, Lafayette became a place where, as one longtime resident put it, oilmen would take helicopters to go get hamburgers. In 1981, with one in 15 Lafayette families boasting a net worth of at least $1 million, the New York Times labeled it the city “of a thousand millionaires.”
The brothers began working for Knight Oil Tools after graduating from college. Mark, more of a Boy Scout, whom acquaintances from that time recall as a bit of a brown-nose, stuck close to Eddy, became a purchasing agent, and studied the business from the top down. Bryan, a rambunctious wild card who’d ditch school to egg cars and play in the swamp, became a traveling salesman, his main duty entertaining customers from companies like Pennzoil and Chevron. This was cowboy capitalism in the Reagan boom, and everyone felt flush.
Bryan had always been a drinker, all the way back to his days at Lafayette High School. (Eddy once kicked him out of the house for partying too much.) He was arrested five times during the late 1970s and ’80s: three times for drunken driving; once for possession of marijuana; and once for possession of cocaine, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest. He lost his license and endured years of probation.
In 1992, Bryan married a relative of the actor Harry Connick Jr. They had a son together the following year, but the marriage quickly crumbled. They separated in 1995 and were officially divorced in 1996, after which Bryan was known to ride around on a motorcycle through his quiet neighborhood with his young son strapped to the back without a helmet.
In early 2003, his ex-wife filed to secure sole custody of their 10-year-old child, saying that Bryan needed drug rehab and psychological counseling. (Today they share joint custody.) That same year, he got into a physical fight with his new girlfriend and was arrested. The woman claimed that Bryan abused crack cocaine, pulled a machete on her, and threatened to cut her throat and then kill himself; Bryan claimed that she was a drug abuser who broke into his home through a window, assaulted him on numerous occasions, tried to extort money from him, and accused him of hiding another woman in his closet. The charges of battery and aggravated assault were later dropped, but each filed a restraining order against the other. Less than a year later, Bryan crashed his car and was arrested for reckless driving and failing to report the accident.
“That’s just the oil-field life,” Bryan told me, adding that he grew up around this type of behavior. Eddy for years rewarded men who came off long stints on offshore rigs with an endless supply of hookers, liquor, and backroom gambling. “Me and all my customers, that’s just what we did.”
Around the turn of the millennium, to prove he was dedicated to the business, Bryan tried to set up a monthly lunch with Mark and their father at the Petroleum Club, where Eddy had a room named after him. Eddy had to be persuaded by his wife to even agree to sit down with Bryan, he considered his middle child such a wreck, and the family only made it through one meal. To hear Bryan tell it, Mark attacked him throughout the lunch, trying to undercut Bryan’s skills as a salesman, and was possibly resentful his father hadn’t cut off his younger brother entirely yet. When they got back to the office, Bryan grabbed Mark by the shirt, threw him up against the wall, and berated him for humiliating him in front of their father. Not too much later, Bryan went on a bender at the company’s condo in Houston, a weekend-long affair allegedly involving prostitutes, booze, and cocaine.
In response, Eddy fired Bryan. According to Bryan, it was only temporary, and today he shrugs off the whole episode as a nonissue. “I had $400,000 saved up, so I didn’t give a shit,” he said. But he did briefly enroll in a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation program in Houston. While Bryan was in treatment, Eddy lay dying from liver cancer. He was concerned less with the company or its future under Mark than with his middle child, the problem child. “Take care of Bryan,” he told his other children. “Promise that you’ll take care of Bryan for me. Promise me that.”
After Eddy’s death, Mark became president of Knight Oil Tools. Those who knew him at the time remember a wild spending spree. He built a $6 million mansion in an upscale Lafayette subdivision, bought a $1 million Prevost bus for tailgating, a Ford F650 Supertruck, a fleet of BMWs for him and his wife, and houses and apartments for his children. He secured a private hangar at the Lafayette Regional Airport to house his brand-new $35 million Challenger 300 private jet (for which he hired two pilots and was buying 4,000 gallons of fuel per month) and a $2 million MD500 helicopter, The Little Bird, a rig originally developed for special operations by the Army. He tried to upgrade his private jet to a $50 million long-range Dassault Falcon so he could fly to Iraq without stopping for fuel, but the purchase was shot down when Ann Knight, the matriarch and deciding vote on the board, sided instead with Bryan and Kelley, who were beginning to form a sort of alliance against their wildly profligate bulldozer of a brother.
In those years, Mark bought a high-end offshore-fishing boat with a trio of 350-horsepower motors, a Porsche 911, and oceanfront mansions in Seaside, Florida, and Pebble Beach, California. He also purchased a duck-hunting camp in Gueydan, Louisiana, the duck-hunting capital of the world, and kept the land conducive to breeding with a $300,000 John Deere tractor operated by hired farmhands. Additionally, he installed a private airstrip at the company’s 12,500-acre hunting camp in Cotulla, Texas. He’d take loyal executives on lavish trips, including to the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, for which he paid over $30,000 per head. He also took personal vacations to London, each of which cost upwards of $250,000. But he didn’t pay for all this stuff out of his own pocket. Many of the purchases were charged to the company. And sometimes, instead, Mark would just boost his salary, which was already well into the millions.
In 2006, Knight Oil Tools unveiled its newly constructed, 96,000-square-foot headquarters in Lafayette, a project Mark had spearheaded. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bryan and Mark flanked their mother, who held the oversize scissors. A photograph appeared the next day in the paper; showing smiles spread across their faces, it’s likely the only public photograph of Mark and Bryan together.
Once the new headquarters opened, Mark immediately moved Bryan’s office out of the executive wing and sequestered him on a different floor. When Bryan arrived to find a team of men carrying his desk toward the elevator, he began to cry. Bryan was banned from using the company jet and from visiting some of the company properties. Mark hadn’t given him an official title, so Bryan printed business cards himself, on which he listed his role in the business as owner.
Bryan wasn’t entirely cut off from the gravy train; he was still getting $360,000 in annual salary, plus a $250,000 bonus. It was a cushy life for a guy who didn’t have mandatory office hours other than a monthly board meeting. Plus, he was still partying a lot and thoroughly enjoying the freedom afforded by his family’s fortune. “When this stuff was going on, I have to admit, I was being wild, riding around like a bronco,” Bryan said. He had more than a dozen girlfriends as the years went on, from Houston to New Orleans to Miami. “They all worked,” Bryan said, adamant that the women were not escorts, “but I would send money to them real quick. Mark got mad at that, too.”
In 2005, Mark hired a former Marine named Russell Manuel. Short and stocky, with a square head and an eagerness to chase attaboys from his new boss, Manuel came onboard to do construction, handyman odd jobs, and recovery work. In many ways, he became Mark’s right-hand man. Early in his tenure, Manuel set up a sting, hoping to catch a housekeeper who was stealing money and diamonds from Ann Knight. Her jewelry box had a secret combination, like a magician’s contraption, requiring drawers to be pushed and pulled in a specific order to open the main compartment. Manuel planted money in the box, installed hidden cameras overhead, and caught the housekeeper in the act.
For Mark, this felt like confirmation that everyone wanted his money. “He was always thinking somebody was after him, that someone was lurking,” Manuel said. “A thief is always looking over his shoulder,” he continued, “and somebody who is constantly doing wrong is always in a state of nervousness.” Mark would shred paperwork all the time, Manuel explained, and had Manuel install hundreds of cameras around the office and place GPS devices on all of Mark’s employees’ cars and trackers on their phones; if you opened a door at the office with your key card, Mark knew about it. Mark’s son, Nicholas, who was brought on by his father as vice-president of operations, kept a loaded Colt 1911 pistol mounted on the underside of his desk — with the barrel pointed toward the visitor’s chair. He’d learned from his father, who also kept a loaded gun in his office.
Manuel remodeled Mark’s numerous hunting camps, once even building an island at the center of a lake that connected to the mainland via a bridge wide enough to drive a truck across. He was also on duty to drive truckloads of fuel ten hours to Texas so Mark could hunt deer from inside his military-grade helicopter.
Mark could be vindictive, too. He managed to persuade local authorities to file criminal charges against an interior decorator named Judy Lyons who had long worked for the family, claiming she had stolen $600,000 from Knight Oil Tools through fraudulent checks and invoices. The police came to her house unannounced, brought her to jail, and issued a $500,000 bond. Lyons, then 55, sat in jail for five days with chains around her wrists and ankles. The judge dismissed all the charges, and Lyons turned around and sued for defamation and false imprisonment, walking away with a settlement.
Manuel was Mark’s ally, and he came to know the Knights and their belongings intimately. At various locations owned by the family, Manuel said, he discovered thousands of guns, boxes of cash, a trove of gold and silver coins, a collection of rare golf clubs, numerous vintage cars (including a DeLorean), and a yellow submarine. “I found hidden safes,” Manuel told me. “I mean, safes.” Guns and money were even stashed in secret compartments within furniture around their houses: $10,000 taped to the underside of a desk, antique firearms stuffed inside a bookcase, more cash and coins hidden in a safe underneath an inoperable garden tub.
In December 2013, Mark set up a meeting with Bryan and Kelley to discuss the terms of a new ownership structure. Mark had previously given Bryan an informal verbal offer, under which Mark would have held a 90 percent stake in the company, but at this meeting Mark proposed that he take 70 percent; Bryan and Kelley would split the remaining 30 percent evenly and each receive $1.2 million annually for the next ten years. Bryan looked at the deal, which Mark had printed out as a PowerPoint. “You want to pay me with my own money?” Bryan said angrily. He ripped the documents in half, tossed them onto the table, and left the meeting.
Shortly thereafter, Manuel says, Bryan sent Mark a threatening text message. (Bryan denies this.)
Come meet me at the lake, Manuel remembers it reading. Meet me at the lake. Just you and I. We are going to get this over with, man-to-man. I’m going to kill you. You’re a dead man.
Mark brought Manuel into his office and showed him the note.
“Get your cop buddies together,” Mark told Manuel. “I want to get him arrested. Whatever it takes. Get that guy arrested. Get him done.”
Manuel walked out of Mark’s office and began formulating his plan. “It was almost, like, an easy decision — a fucking dumb decision — but an easy decision,” Manuel told me. “Here’s my state-trooper buddy. Here’s my Metro Narcotics buddy. All my buddies are police officers. It was a no-brainer.”
In early 2014, Manuel called Jason Kinch of the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force and Corey Jackson of the Louisiana State Police and said he had work for them. The men had previously worked one-off jobs for Mark, including teaching concealed-weapons classes for executives and providing security details during family events. They were game for the assignment: surveilling Bryan to catch him while in possession of drugs. It took a few weeks, but they were eventually able to install a GPS tracking device, paid for by Knight Oil Tools, underneath his Escalade. Mark demanded near-daily updates.
Manuel and his law-enforcement cohorts were not the most savvy spies. Manuel had been a Marine and brought out some keepsakes — a full-camouflage fatigues outfit, face paint, night-vision goggles, and a high-power camera. Manuel clandestinely filmed Bryan coming and going when Bryan, according to Manuel, bought cocaine from drug dealers who lived down the street. During one filming session, a dealer walked over to the fence to relieve himself and nearly urinated on Manuel’s face as he lay motionless in the shrubbery.
Although the men filmed Bryan doing what they thought was buying drugs, they couldn’t arrange an arrest. They’d have to call in the tip anonymously, and since the drug house and Bryan’s house were too close together, there wouldn’t be enough time to catch him. “I mean, two roads — boop-boop,” Manuel told me. Even if they were able to get a cop to the scene, Bryan would already be home. It would never work. Mark was growing impatient. He told them to improvise — just figure it out.
Then Manuel had an idea. They found that, on occasion, Bryan would have groups of people over, allegedly drug dealers and prostitutes. If Manuel and the cops could somehow get them out of the house before they finished off the drugs, there would be enough time to call in a tip and bust Bryan driving around in possession of narcotics with hookers in the car. It was now fully spring, so cranking the air conditioner was already necessary in Louisiana; if they could turn Bryan’s off, Manuel figured, Bryan would have to leave his house. There wasn’t an accessible breaker to cut the power, so Manuel put on fatigues and face paint and crawled on his belly across the lawn. Bryan’s next-door neighbors, an elderly couple, were watching television, and Manuel could see through their window. Manuel watched TV for a few minutes, then snuck over to the industrial air conditioner, pulled out his Leatherman, and began to cut through the power line. “Well, it energized while I was doing it,” Manuel told me. The power juiced through the pliers — electrocuting him — and sent him flying nearly ten feet off the wall. “It knocked the crap out of me,” Manuel said. A ball of fire flew off the building. Kinch raced over in his unmarked car, and Manuel jumped in, his arm temporarily paralyzed. The duo did a doughnut on the front lawn and threw toilet paper out of the car’s window, to make the bungled scene look like a prank pulled by a couple of kids. Then they sped off, unnoticed by Bryan or his guests.
For all this, Kinch and Jackson were paid in cash installments. Additionally, Manuel was promised the equivalent of one year’s salary if they succeeded in getting Bryan arrested. Every couple of weeks, Manuel met Mark at his mansion, and Mark gave him $10,000 stuffed into a paper bag for the officers and to cover other expenses. But as the payments piled up, Mark grew impatient. His youngest son, Zach, was scheduled to be married in early summer, and that became their de facto deadline, one that brought simmering family drama to a head, as wedding planning often does. “I want his ass nailed because Zach is getting married,” Manuel remembers Mark’s wife, Trish, telling him. (She was never charged with any wrongdoing.) “Make sure it’s done before Zach’s wedding.” At a secret meeting with, Corey Jackson, the state trooper, shortly thereafter, Manuel understood him to be intimating that Bryan could take a trip to New Orleans, saying he could go down there “and never come back.” (Jackson denies this, and it was never verified by law enforcement.) But Mark had another idea.
“Put the drugs in his car,” Manuel alleges Mark told him. “Put it on him. Put it in his house. Whatever it takes. Do it. Get it done. I don’t care what it takes.” (Mark has denied ordering Manuel to put drugs in Bryan’s car.)
One day, Manuel and Kinch, a member of the city’s narcotics task force, spotted a guy Kinch knew to be a big-time dealer. Manuel approached him, he remembers, and asked to purchase drugs. “I think it was called an eight ball or something like that,” Manuel told me. But when he showed Kinch the score, Manuel says, Kinch told him that the dealer had ripped him off. Kinch made Manuel go back and buy more to ensure a felony. “I had no clue,” Manuel said. “I didn’t know what it cost. After that, I Googled it.” Manuel added 25 Lortabs and 25 methadone pills from his own prescriptions to the stash and kept the drugs and the magnetic cases in a safe until he and the cops, a few weeks later, found their opportunity to plant them. (Kinch has denied this story, though he later pleaded guilty to his role in the broader conspiracy to frame Bryan.)
Meanwhile, Bryan had secretly been doing his own maneuvering. With his sister, Kelley, he had conducted a forensic audit that, according to Bryan and his attorney, showed Mark had engaged, over the past decade, in the continuous use of fraudulent invoices and excessive spending to the tune of $40 million. That he was doing so while the industry as a whole seemed headed for serious contraction made the behavior all the more infuriating; in flush times you can get away with a lot more than in lean ones. Bryan and Kelley planned to present this evidence during an upcoming mediation session to determine the future of the business, scheduled for a few days in early June 2014. The meeting, however, wasn’t a roundtable discussion; relations had broken down so badly that a mediator had to engage with each party in separate rooms, scuttling back and forth between the estranged siblings.
During a mid-morning break, Mark called Russell Manuel, who was awaiting the green light to frame Bryan. “Bryan’s here,” Manuel heard Mark say. “We are at the Lafayette Bar Association meeting. Get him today. Get him now.”
Manuel quickly linked up with Jackson, he says, and staked out Bryan’s car. Manuel called Kinch, who was in Florida playing golf, and Kinch instructed him to anonymously call the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force tip line — and to remove the GPS device from Bryan’s Escalade before the cops showed up, lest their cover be blown. Manuel approached the car in the busy parking lot. “I dropped my Coca-Cola on purpose, it rolled underneath the car—people were walking right behind me — I just reached up, grabbed the GPS, and pulled it off.” The cops pulled Bryan over shortly thereafter.
A couple of days later, Mark came by Ann’s house, where Bryan was staying. At first he feigned surprise at the news of his brother’s arrest. But after Bryan confronted him about his involvement, Mark told him, “I can make this go away, but you aren’t going to like what you have to do.” Bryan knew this to mean that Mark wanted him to sign over his stake in the company. Bryan turned to his brother. “Fuck you, motherfucker!” he screamed.
Later that month, Mark paid Manuel $67,000 via a company check as a bonus.
Between August and October, according to an internal company investigation, Mark sold nearly $2.5 million worth of scrap pipe from the Knight Oil Tools inventory and instructed the buyer to pay him $504,900 directly, via 51 checks, each made out for $9,900. The remaining $2 million would be paid in a similar fashion after the scrap pipe was delivered. After the money landed in Mark’s bank account, he used a shell company to purchase a 40-acre plot of land, worth $2 million, in one of Lafayette’s most upscale neighborhoods.
The inventory department informed an accountant that money from the scrap pipe was going to be sent directly to Mark; the accountant sent a letter alerting then–SVP of finance Earl Blackwell and then-CFO Bobby Veazey to the theft. Veazey, who had by this time replaced Ann Knight on the board of directors and now held a seat alongside the three Knight siblings, informed Bryan and Kelley, and they conducted an internal investigation, which corroborated the accountant’s claims. They demanded that Mark return the funds. Mark’s son Nicholas tried to cover up the crime by falsifying invoices, but it was too late. Mark borrowed the money from Ann and grudgingly paid back the company.
A board meeting was scheduled for December 12, 2014, and the evening before, Mark, knowing his time at the company was up, called Veazey into his office and threatened his family with retaliation. Veazey, truly frightened, relayed what had happened at the board meeting the next day, and then the vote began to remove Mark as CEO of Knight Oil Tools.
Manuel was still employed by the company. A few weeks after he was fired, Mark called him and told him to have an excavator delivered to a small lake in the woods behind Knight Oil Tools, a piece of land Eddy had owned. A local rental company called Manuel and said that the metal detectors for Mark were ready to be picked up. Manuel put two and two together: Mark was looking for Eddy’s hidden stashes of cash and gold. Manuel went to the lake that night around 10 p.m. and found a giant hole, nearly ten feet deep, at the edge of the woods and saw six 50-gallon metal drums. The next day, Manuel says, Mark’s son Zach told him they were “taking Eddy’s money barrels out of the ground.” The barrels were in holes that had originally been dug by Mark and Bryan, working in tandem as teenagers, to bury Eddy’s money. It was likely one of the only instances in their life when they worked together as a team. “Well, I hope you hit pay dirt,” Manuel told Mark.
Kip Judice, executive officer to the chief deputy and third in command at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, sat across from Barret Lemaire in a windowless interview room and listened to his story, unable to believe what he was hearing. “Quite honestly, man, it sure sounded like a fairy tale,” Judice told me. “I’m thinking, Man, this guy is just off the wall … That’s really far-fetched. Maybe in a movie you’d hear something like that.”
Lemaire had been the director of IT at Knight Oil Tools and was the person who bought the GPS tracking device. He’d also kept a private backup of the tracking data, as insurance in case something went awry, and shared it with a co-worker in some text messages. When printouts of those messages ended up in Manuel’s company mailbox (it’s unclear who put them there), Manuel flipped out, followed Lemaire out of the office to the nearest stoplight, got out of his truck, approached Lemaire’s car, and threatened him and his family. Manuel subsequently sent him a text message that read, “If you fuck with me in any way shape or form you will be in a bind!!”
Instead of staying quiet, Lemaire went to the sheriff’s office. When Judice brought Manuel in, he offered him immunity if he cooperated, and as Judice spoke, Manuel nodded his head in agreement, his bottom lip stuffed with chewing tobacco, his sunglasses slung around his neck.
“Did you pay any law-enforcement officers to do anything outside the bounds of the law?” Judice asked.
“I paid law-enforcement officers, yes,” Manuel replied, later adding, “We were hunting for Bryan Knight.”
“How did you pay these individuals?”
“Cash,” Manuel said. “One hundred percent cash.”
“Where’d you get the cash?”
“From Mark Knight,” Manuel said. “Mark was trying to do all of this to Bryan so he would have ultimate power over the company.”
The interview lasted for more than three hours. Afterward, Judice contacted the manufacturer of the magnetic cases, who confirmed that they had only shipped three cases to Louisiana, all of which went to Knight Oil Tools. Judice also listened to the anonymous calls made to the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force the day of Bryan’s arrest. He tracked the officers’ cell-phone location data, which corroborated Manuel’s claims. Judice also obtained the GPS data, which showed that, after Bryan’s arrest, Manuel brought the device — which was still tracking — back to his house. “I don’t get surprised no more,” he said. “This is South Louisiana, and we were dealing with a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars.” On the other hand, Judice said, “he set his brother up and wanted his brother to go to jail. How sucky is that?”
Mark and the two cops were arrested, and by the time Mark’s trial date was scheduled, Knight Oil Tools had collapsed. Between 2012 and 2016, the price of oil fell by nearly 65 percent and the nearly billion-dollar family dynasty quickly buckled under the weight of its debt obligation, which was cited at between $100 million and $500 million. The company had been through two new CEOs since Mark’s arrest, neither of whom lasted more than a year, and was also fielding fresh lawsuits, including one alleging that Mark had failed to pay the bill for his private jet.
In August 2017, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In December, Clearlake Capital, a private investment firm from California that had been watching the company’s demise from afar, purchased the debt at a discount and acquired a majority stake in the business. As part of the restructuring, however, the Knight siblings reduced their individual stakes in the company to 5 percent each, cutting their net worth by an estimated 85 percent. What was once worth over $100 million for each sibling was now worth, at most, $15 million.
Mark’s trial was scheduled for August 2018, but less than a week before it was to begin, he pleaded no contest to corrupt influencing and public bribery. The two cops also pleaded guilty to their charges — Kinch to corrupt influencing and public bribery and Jackson to malfeasance. On February 6, 2019, Mark, who had been living at his Pebble Beach mansion since being indicted, entered the Lafayette Parish Courthouse to be sentenced: one year in the parish jail, to be served starting the following week, with the caveat that he was eligible for an alternative-sentencing program. He’d spend one day in jail, then be sent home wearing an ankle monitor.
Bryan had declined to come to the sentencing. Instead, he woke up that morning at his mother’s house and watched television for a little while. Then he took a shower, put on some clothes, and went to work.
*This article appears in the June 24, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!