Judge sentences Wells contractor to 25 years for tornado-related fraud

Jason McKnight mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.
Jason McKnight mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - A district judge sentenced a Wells building contractor to 25 years in prison for fraud in connection to victims of the Dec. 2009 tornado.

A jury found Jason Lynn McKnight, 43, guilty of five counts of fraud in October. He was accused of illegally securing building permits on behalf of tornado victims without their permission from the City of Lufkin.

District Judge Paul White said in the courtroom he is usually only concerned with using penitentiary time as a public safety to others, but he has created a category for McKnight.

"I cannot let a financial predator loose," White said.

Prosecuting attorney Art Bauereiss began the morning by calling Angelina County clerk JoAnn Chastain to the stand.  She told the court about her experience with McKnight roofing company back in 2003.  She said she gave McKnight around $15,000 for work on her home.  Eventually he would call to tell her the money had been spent to pay some bills, and no work was actually completed on her home.

"I'm a widow and it was hard for me to get it done," Chastain said. "I feel like I was preyed upon me because I'm a widow."

Defense attorney Al Charanza called McKnight to the stand.  He tried to explain why the investigating detective, Ron Stubblefield, "has lied about the whole thing." He also told the court that a part of the videotaped interview was deleted before being shown to the jury.

McKnight told the court that the customers who he actually did work on their homes were satisfied.  That included Evelyn Jones, one of the victims during the trial.  He was found not guilty on her count.

Knight was asked to explain Chastain's testimony. "She went with the bid $15,500, like she said."  However, McKnight said the checks were given to his partner, Billy Oliver."

He said Oliver told him "I spent her money."  McKnight said he told her they would fix it anyway, and began to work on her house for a week.  He said Oliver was supposed to do the roof.  "Billy Oliver who owns ABCo." said McKnight." 

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