12/02/2010 6:26PM

Trial date set for ousted Louisiana horsemen's official


Mona Romero, the former executive director of the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association who was named in a 29-count indictment that alleges mail fraud among other charges, pled not guilty during her Thursday afternoon arraignment in a federal court in New Orleans. Her trial is set for Jan. 31.

Sean Alfortish, the former chairman of the Louisiana horsemen's association who was also named in the indictment, was to be arraigned on Friday. His court date was pushed back a day after having originally been set for Thursday.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment against Romero, 52, and Alfortish, 43, on Nov. 18. It alleges that the pair conspired to "rig the outcome," of a 2008 Louisiana horsemen's election. To be valid, ballots had to bear both a U.S. Postal Service postmark and the Social Security number of an eligible member of the horsemen's group. Alfortish and Romero were charged with using the Social Security numbers of some members without their "knowledge or consent," according to a release issued by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. The indictment alleges that Romero and others flew to various cities to mail the falsified ballots.

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.

Last week, the board of the Louisiana horsemen's association relieved Romero of her duties, according to one of the organization's representatives. Alfortish, meanwhile, was replaced as chairman, with trainer Larry Robideaux Jr. installed to that position by the horsemen's board. Robideaux had been the vice-chariman to Alfortish.

Alfortish was elected to the board in 2005, and Romero was named executive director the same year. A new election is set to be held by the Louisiana horsemen's group in March.