Updated on 09/01/2011 9:24PM

Former Louisiana horsemen's chief pleads guilty

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An election-rigging case that for years has divided loyalties among the membership of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association took a significant step towards its conclusion Wednesday when the organization’s former president, Sean Alfortish, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, identity fraud, and health care fraud. His plea comes less than a week before he was to stand trial in a case in which two of his former associates, Mona Romero and Cricket Romero, have already pleaded guilty.

Alfortish, 43, faces up to five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines. He entered his plea before U.S. district judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans, and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 15. Alfortish did not return a Thursday phone call seeking comment. He was to have gone to trial next Tuesday.

MORE: Read the plea agreement [PDF] »

The case dates back to a 2008 Louisiana HBPA election. Alfortish was seeking his second term as president, after being first elected in 2005. He was reelected, but last November a federal grand jury returned a 29-count indictment against Alfortish and Mona Romero, the organization’s former executive director, that alleged the pair had conspired with others to “rig the outcome” of the election. Mona Romero, 53, pleaded guilty in July and is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 27.

Alfortish, in his plea Wednesday, admitted that he and others had conspired to rig the election, with one of the objectives being to replace some of the board members who had questioned his management, according to a release issued by the offices of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Alfortish admitted fraudulent ballots were cast using the Social Security numbers of some members of the Louisiana horsemen’s group without their consent, and that under his direction three people subsequently flew to Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, and Texas to mail those ballots. Cricket Romero, a former employee of the Louisiana horsemen’s association, in December pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft in the mail-fraud case. She is curently scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 22.

Alfortish had also been charged with health care fraud concerning payments made from the Louisiana horsemen’s medical benefit trust account, and, according to the release issued Wednesday, he has admitted to diverting funds from it “under the guise of administrative expenses of the trust.” A shortage of funds in the account had allegedly caused payments of some claims to be delayed and led to some coverage being reduced. The original indictment also alleged a wire fraud scheme tied to distribution of relief funds after Hurricane Katrina.

Alfortish served as president of the Louisiana HBPA from 2005-2010. A former magistrate and practicing attorney, he is a resident of Kenner, La. A new Louisiana HBPA election was held in March, and Stanley Seelig was voted in as president. He said with Wednesday’s developments, the organization is now focusing on the future.

“Now that Sean has pleaded guilty, it’s time to figure out how to make the organization whole again financially and replenish monies that were misspent,” Seelig said Thursday.