12/03/2010 1:22PM

Former Louisiana HBPA official Alfortish pleads not guilty to fraud charges

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Sean Alfortish, the former chairman of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association who last month was named in a 29-count indictment that alleges mail fraud, health care fraud, and wire fraud, pled not guilty to the charges in a federal court in New Orleans on Friday. His trial has been set for Jan. 31.

Mona Romero, who had served as executive director for the Louisiana HBPA since Alfortish was elected to the board of directors in 2005, is a co-defendant in the case. She also pled not guilty at her arraignment, which was held on Thursday.

If convicted of the 29 counts, Alfortish, 43, and Romero, 52, face up to 280 years in prison and fines of $7.25 million, according to a release that was issued last month by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Alfortish is free on a $100,000 bond and Romero is free on a $50,000 bond.

Alfortish and Romero are charged with conspiring with others to “rig the outcome” of a 2008 Louisiana HBPA election in the indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury on Nov. 18. It alleges that false ballots were created using the Social Security numbers of some of the membership without their “knowledge or consent.” To be valid, the ballots had to bear both a Social Security number of a member eligible to vote, and a U.S. postmark. The indictment alleges that Romero and others then flew to various cities to mail the ballots that were falsified.

The health care fraud charge concerns payments out of the administrative account of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Medical Benefit Trust. The indictment also alleges wire fraud in conjunction with the distribution of relief funds after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana.

Alfortish, who is an attorney and horse owner, was not paid in his role as chairman of the Louisiana HBPA. However, he had been employed as the organization’s director of workers’ compensation and director of simulcast and was “relieved” of those duties by a vote of the board on Nov. 22, according to a representative of the Louisiana HBPA. Romero was removed from her position at the same meeting.

Trainer Larry Robideaux Jr., who had been vice chairman of the Louisiana HBPA, has been installed chairman by the board. The organization’s next election is March 31.