NEW ORLEANS - Fraud and mismanagement at the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association cost the organization more than $800,000 in public funds from 2006 to 2010, according to a final audit tally released Monday.
According to the state Legislative Auditor, former director Sean Alfortish – who is now serving a prison sentence for rigging an election and raiding the organization’s coffers – misspent money on items ranging from Caribbean vacations to designer handbags, from illegal political contributions to spa services.
In addition to $828,620 that was diverted from the racehorse industry workers to pay for improper perks, another $504,226 went unaccounted for because Alfortish and several of his top officers did not submit the required receipts.
Alfortish, a former Kenner magistrate judge, is serving a 46-month prison sentence for rigging an election to remain president of the of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. In his guilty plea, Alfortish admitted raided the association’s coffers for lavish perks for himself and others, and was ordered to pay $105,104 in restitution, a figure that included $25,000 to secretly settle a sexual harassment claim.
Two of Alfortish’s top lieutenants at the association also pleaded guilty.
Former LHBPA Executive Director Mona Hebert Romero pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and is serving a 13-month prison sentence. Cricket Romero pleaded guilty in December 2010 to helping Alfortish and her sister-in-law rig the 2008 election and was sentenced to six months under house arrest.
The audit points out that while Alfortish drew no salary as board president, he maintained two LHBPA jobs paying him $116,000 and rewarded himself and Romero with benefits such as Caribbean vacations and free gasoline for their private vehicles. Among the other gifts Alfortish and Romero allegedly directed to themselves: a Bose stereo system for him and Louis Vuitton handbag for her.
The audit also details improper perks such as steak and lobster dinners with expensive bottles of wine, Carnival parade stand rentals, lodging at high-end resorts, employee gifts, evening gowns, fuel purchases and charitable donations.
The LHBPA is in charge of bookkeeping at Louisiana's four race tracks, paying out the purses and keeping six percent of the money for itself for health care, retirement and worker's compensation benefits.
The current director of the LHBPA, Stanley Seelig, said he welcomed the follow-up audit as a way to help clean up the mess he inherited.
Seelig, who was appointed after helping expose Alfortish, issued this statement in response to the report.
“For many years, the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has done an outstanding job of working for the best interest of the hard working families in Louisiana’s horse industry. This audit follows on a federal investigation into activities which occurred in 2010 and earlier and established that some of the past leaders and staff of the HBPA did not follow that mission. Those individuals have been prosecuted and dealt appropriately within the judicial system.
Our current leadership and staff have gone to extreme measures to cooperate in every way with the Legislative Auditor in order to facilitate the audit work. Over the last two years, we instituted new policies and procedures to assure our members and the public that the HBPA is operating properly and effectively now and in the future.
The actions of a few irresponsible persons should not diminish in any way the important work of the HBPA programs for our owners, trainers and all who work in the Louisiana Horse industry. “