A styled class-action lawsuit leveling allegations of fraud and embezzlement against the president of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association has been transferred to federal court, according to recently filed documents.
Attorneys for association president Sean Alfortish recently filed a notice of removal to the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana, which will hear the lawsuit originally launched at the state court level in February by three former members of the group’s board — Thomas Ball, William Boorhem, and Arthur Morrell. Another Louisiana horse owner, George Ackel Jr., intervened in the lawsuit with a class-action petition in August, bringing with it the fraud allegations against Alfortish.
The lawsuit also names the Louisiana HBPA as a defendant.
The controversy stems from alleged unsuccessful efforts of the original plaintiffs to fully review the business operations and finances of the Louisiana HBPA over nearly a two-year period, with the original lawsuit, filed in January, asking the court to force availability of the requested materials.
Ball, Boorhem, and Morrell, who were sitting members of the group’s board at the time of their lawsuit filing, also unsuccessfully tried to block the Louisiana HBPA election in March amid charges of alleged improprieties and further uncooperativeness by Alfortish and his staff. Ball and Morrell were candidates for re-election but were defeated. Ackel was also a candidate who failed to earn a board seat in the election, which is held every three years.
Letters filed with the court suggest Ball, Boorhem, and Morrell wanted a full accounting of Louisiana HBPA operations, including the distribution of about $780,000 in reported relief funds the group received following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Among other requests, the trio also sought disclosures on salaries, workmen’s compensation operations, and repairs to the Louisiana HBPA building, which was damaged by Katrina.
Ackel’s petition went a step further. Without citing specifics, the complaint, which claims it is filed on behalf of all 5,500 estimated members of the Louisiana HBPA, claims Alfortish “personally profited from and/or embezzled funds earmarked” for the group.
“Sean Alfortish used Association funds for personal uses, including the purchasing of gifts, meals, and use of vehicles for his personal use,” the petition claims, also alleging Alfortish “inappropriately authorized certain expenditures” that were not expended in the best interests of the Louisiana HBPA.
Alfortish, who is an attorney, deferred comment on the lawsuit to his legal counsel, who did not immediately respond to interview requests. Efforts to contact the plaintiffs, either individually or through their attorneys, were also unsuccessful. Ball and Boorhem own Rancha Fresa and Foxwood Plantation farms in Louisiana, respectively, while Morrell, an attorney and former six-term member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, is clerk for the Orleans Parish (La.) Criminal Court and a former Louisiana HBPA vice president.
But Alfortish, in a January letter included in court documents, defended his office and actions in response to written queries previously made by Ball, Boorhem, Morrell, and a fourth sitting board member, Thomas Abbott.
Alfortish wrote it was "astounding" to him that despite all the Louisiana HBPA accomplished in the aftermath of Katrina, "we have four board members who can't help but find fault.
"Where were all of you when people were showing up at our field office with all their belongings needing gas money, lodging, or maybe a helmet, flack jacket, and boots so they could just earn a living to start their lives over?" the letter continued. "We are insulted by the comments that are finding their way back to our office all in the name of politics."
Citing unnamed sources, the New Orleans Times-Picayune this summer reported the launch of a federal criminal investigation into the Louisiana HBPA, claiming in August that a grand jury had been convened to consider evidence and testimony.
Alfortish, who for 10 years has also served as a magistrate judge for the Kenner (La.) Mayor’s Court, in July was granted a 60-day temporary leave of absence “until such time as this probe of the Horseman’s Benevolent & Protective Association can either be completed or resolved.” A city of Kenner public information officer told The Blood-Horse Oct. 22 Alfortish was still on leave from the post while attending to a “personal matter.” The Mayor’s Court has “jurisdiction over traffic, misdemeanor and code enforcement violations,” according to its Web site.