TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced that a state grand jury again indicted Wildwood’s mayor, a former mayor, and a city commissioner in connection with their allegedly fraudulent participation in the State Health Benefits Program, reinstating charges that had been dismissed without prejudice last month.
A state grand jury in Trenton returned a 12-count indictment on Monday, July 31, 2023, against Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, former Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr., and current City Commissioner Steve Mikulski, reinstating charges of official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records.
The grand jury’s decision re-charges the criminal case after New Jersey Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury, Jr., presiding in Cape May County, granted Troiano’s motion to dismiss the indictment on June 23, dismissing the case against all three defendants without prejudice — meaning the Attorney General’s Office had an opportunity to re-present to a state grand jury.
“The court stated in dismissing this indictment that the ruling was based on a technical deficiency and that the defendants’ other arguments were unconvincing,” said Attorney General Platkin. “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.”
Byron, 67, Troiano, 72, and Mikulski, 57, all residents of Wildwood, were first indicted on the charges back in March.
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. 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 in June 2022.
Deputy Attorneys General Brian Uzdavinis and Niccole Sandora are prosecuting the case for the OPIA Corruption Bureau under the supervision of Bureau Chief Peter Lee and OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione, with the assistance of Detectives of the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption South Unit. Attorney General Platkin thanked the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits for their referral.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
For Troiano: Brian A. Pelloni, Esq., Bensalem, Pa.
For Byron: Eric Shenkus, Esq., Deputy Public Defender, Cape May Court House
For Mikulski: David A. Stefankiewicz, Esq., North Wildwood