11/19/2010 5:10PM

Louisiana HBPA president Alfortish to be arraigned Dec. 2


Sean Alfortish, the president of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and Mona Romero, the organization’s executive director, will be arraigned Dec. 2 after a federal grand jury returned a 29-count indictment against them Thursday that included a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and an accusation that they rigged an election. A trial date will be scheduled at the arraignment, and the case will be heard in New Orleans, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

Alfortish, 43, has been president of the Louisiana HBPA since 2005, while Romero, 52, became executive director the same year. The Louisiana HBPA said in a statement that it was evaluating the case.

“[The] indictment will be immediately and thoroughly reviewed by the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association,” the statement said. “The HBPA will take whatever actions are deemed appropriate after the thorough review and will communicate those actions that are taken to the membership.

“The association has cooperated fully throughout the investigative process and will continue to do so as may be appropriate, and as the legal system takes its course.”

The case dates back to a 2008 Louisiana HBPA election in which Alfortish and Romero allegedly conspired with others to “rig the outcome,” according to a statement by Letten. To be valid, ballots had to bear both a U.S. Postal Service postmark and the Social Security number of an eligible HBPA member. Alfortish and Romero were charged with using the Social Security numbers of some members without their “knowledge or consent.” The indictment alleges that Romero and others flew to various cities to mail the falsified ballots.

Alfortish is not paid for the position of president but has been employed by the Louisiana HBPA as its director of simulcasting and workers’ compensation, according to a copy of the indictment that was posted on the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Neither Alfortish, who is an attorney, nor the attorney representing him in this case, Patrick Fanning, returned calls seeking comment.

Alfortish and Romero were also charged with health care fraud concerning payments made from the Louisiana Horsemen’s Medical Benefit trust account. A shortage of funds has allegedly caused payments of some claims to be delayed and led to some coverage being reduced. The indictment also alleges a wire fraud scheme tied to distribution of relief funds after Hurricane Katrina.
If convicted of the 29 counts, Alfortish and Romero face maximum penalties of 280 years in prison and $7.25 million in fines, according to the U.S. attorney. Letten said in a statement that the investigation was ongoing.