Last November, the U.S. Attorney's office of the Eastern District of Louisiana charged Sean Alfortish, the president of the HBPA, and Mona Romero, its executive director, with 29 counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, identity fraud, wire fraud, healthcare fraud, and witness tampering.
Alfortish, 43, and Romero
, 52, pleaded not guilty and are free on bail.
Prosecutors say that beginning in March 2005, when Alfortish won election and then chose Romero
as executive director, they siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars from the HBPA
and its medical benefits trust for cash and salaries, parties and vacations, cars and entertainment, evening gowns and diamond cufflinks, and even a settlement in a sexual harassment suit.
The indictment charges that after horsemen from around the country donated almost $800,000 for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief, Alfortish and Romero
seized control of the funds and spent some on themselves and gave more to undeserving friends.
And, as a minority of elected members of the HBPA's 10-person board asked more and more questions about the finances of the association, Alfortish and Romero
, prosecutors say, conspired with three subordinates to rig the March 2008 election, replacing those members with their preferred candidates.
wed into one of the first families of Cajun Country racing.
sister-in-law Cindy "Cricket" Romero was also indicted.
Winfree is another sister-in-law of Mona Romero
According to the indictment, Mona Romero
and Broussard handpicked the names of horsemen who lived out of state and had raced in Louisiana once, making them eligible but highly unlikely to vote in the election, and forged ballots using their Social Security numbers.
and Cricket Romero and Winfree then flew around the country to mail the ballots with the appropriate postmarks.
and Alfortish await trial, there is no shortage of suspense within the HBPA
and Louisiana racing circles.
A court order last month prohibited Alfortish from contacting any member of the board and from participating in the election - a contest between those who supported Alfortish and Romero
and those who clamored for transparency and now feel vindicated.
Over the next two years, HBPA documents show the association paid approximately $160,000 for criminal defense attorneys for Alfortish and Winfree and Mona
, Cricket, and Gerald Romero.
Alfortish and Mona Romero
told the national HBPA that funds would be distributed properly after review by a screening committee, but instead they gave out funds at their sole discretion, the indictment says.
allegedly received a salary of $228,275 paid out of the medical benefits trust administrative account; health insurance for herself and her
family totaling $1,330 per month; a 2007 GMC Acadia SUV leased for her
use, plus gasoline and OnStar navigation and satellite radio; use of HBPA credit cards for travel and entertainment, paid out of the medical trust; travel for herself and her
husband to Aruba and the Grand Caymans; and a Louis Vuitton handbag.
By law, up to 30 percent of the medical benefits trust can be used for genuine administrative expenses, but in cases where Alfortish and Romero
could spend less than that, the indictment says, they diverted the surplus to pay for personal or HBPA expenses instead of expanding coverage with that money or saving it for future years.
On March 13, 2008, Mona
and Cricket Romero obtained leftover ballots for the election from the printer.
Two days later, Mona Romero
and Broussard met at Broussard's home and marked hundreds of ballots for Alfortish as president and their preferred candidates for the board.
Soon after, Mona Romero
asked Cricket to make airline reservations for the two of them and Winfree.
The next day, Mona Romero
flew to Dallas, and Winfree flew to Tampa.
Stakelum and the plaintiffs in his case hired a handwriting expert, who concluded that 90 percent of the suspect ballots were filled out by Mona Romero
That November, Mona Romero
urged Winfree to "stick together" with her, Alfortish, and others and not to cooperate with authorities.
Alfortish and Romero
apparently saw the HBPA's
four entities as one large pool in which to move around money, even though by law their budgets are separate.