Grand Jury Revives Charges Against 3 Elected Officials in Wildwood, NJ
Three elected officials in Wildwood have again been indicted in connection to their alleged fraudulent participation in a state health benefits program.
Earlier this week, a state grand jury returned a 12-count indictment against 67-year-old Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, 72-year-old former Mayor Ernest Troiano, Jr., and 57-year-old City Commissioner Steve Mikulski, reinstating charges of official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with public records, and falsifying or tampering with records.
Those charges had been dismissed without prejudice last month, which meant state officials could re-present their case.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a statement,
Today’s decision by the grand jury demonstrates the sufficiency of the evidence supporting these charges and the validity of this case, which we intend to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
The trio was first indicted back in March.
According to the NJ AG's office,
- New Jersey law requires elected officials to be full-time employees “whose hours of work are fixed at 35 or more per week” in their elected positions to be eligible to participate in the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and receive publicly funded healthcare.
- The investigation revealed that Byron, Troiano, and Mikulski, were never eligible because they were never “full-time” employees according to that definition.
- They did not receive vacation, sick, or personal days, and maintained no regular schedule. It is alleged, however, that all three fraudulently enrolled in the SHBP anyway and received publicly funded health benefits.
Troiano and Byron were elected to Wildwood’s three-member City Commission in 2011, and Troiano was sworn in as mayor. Both voted in 2011 to pass a resolution that declared themselves full-time employees working “a minimum of 35 hours per week” for Wildwood, a work schedule that would have justified their enrollment in the SHBP. But Troiano and Byron allegedly did not work a regular full-time schedule or work at least 35 hours per week, yet they falsely signed and submitted timesheets to the city indicating they worked full days Monday through Friday.
Platkins' office says as a result, Wildwood and the SHBP paid over $286,500 in premiums and claims on behalf of Troiano from July 2011 through December 2019 and paid over $608,900 in premiums and claims on behalf of Byron from July 2011 through October 2021.
Mikulski became a member of Wildwood’s Commission in 2020 and enrolled in the SHBP shortly thereafter. Wildwood and the SHBP have paid over $103,000 in premiums and claims on his behalf through October 2021.
It is further alleged that he knowingly made false statements in a 'Health Benefits Enrollment and/or Change Form' submitted to the City of Wildwood.
SHBP coverage for both Mikulski and Byron was terminated after they were initially charged along with Troiano by complaint summons last summer.
Byron faces sentencing
In addition to the health benefits-related charges, Byron will be in court this week to be sentenced for filing fraudulent tax returns in 2017 and 2018.
According to phillyvoice.com, earlier this year, Byron pleaded guilty to two charges related to failing to disclose over $40,000 in income made from a second sales job with a consulting firm.
Byron potentially faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The public is reminded that charges are accusations and all persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.