WILDWOOD — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced a state grand jury has returned a 12-count indictment against Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, former Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr., and current City Commissioner Steve Mikulski in connection with their allegedly fraudulent participation in the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP).
The grand jury has decided criminal charges should be filed against Byron, 67, Troiano, 72, and Mikulski, 57, all residents of Wildwood. They are each facing four counts: second-degree official misconduct, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, third-degree tampering with public records and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. The defendants were charged by complaint in June 2022 in an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) that began with a referral from the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits. All three defendants pleaded not guilty during their arraignment in state Superior Court in Cape May County before Judge Bernard DeLury, Jr.
Since 2010, New Jersey law has required 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 SHBP and receive publicly funded healthcare. The investigation revealed that Byron, Troiano, and Mikulski were never eligible because they were never “full-time” employees as defined by state law. 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 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 men voted in 2011 to pass a resolution that declared themselves full-time employees working “a minimum of 35 hours per week” for Wildwood. They subsequently enrolled in the SHBP. While Troiano and Byron did not work a regular full-time schedule or work at least 35 hours per week, they allegedly 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. He enrolled in the SHBP and has since received publicly funded health benefits. Wildwood and the SHBP have paid over $103,000 in premiums and claims on his behalf through October 2021. It is alleged that he knowingly made false statements in a “Health Benefits Enrollment and/or Change Form” submitted to the City of Wildwood.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Uzdavinis is 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.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree offenses could lead to up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
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