Current, Former Wildwood Mayors, Commissioner Reindicted For Scamming Health Benefits Program

State authorities rebounded from a dismissed case with a new indictment against Wildwood’s mayor, a former mayor, and a city commissioner on health fraud charges.

(left to right) Wildwood City Commissioner Steve Mikulski, former Mayor Ernest V. Troiano Jr., current Mayor Peter J. Byron

(left to right) Wildwood City Commissioner Steve Mikulski, former Mayor Ernest V. Troiano Jr., current Mayor Peter J. Byron

Photo Credit: FACEBOOK

Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury, Jr. cited a technicality in deep-sixing the state’s initial case against Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, former Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. and current City Commissioner Steve Mikulski nearly six weeks ago.

The judge left the door open for state prosecutors to take another crack at it.

A grand jury, in turn, returned a new indictment that New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said “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 was sentenced to plea-bargained probation on Wednesday, Aug. 2 in a separate case in U.S. District Court in Camden for filing bogus tax returns in 2017 and 2018. He also was fined $14,000 and ordered to pay $7,014 in restitution.The terms of Byron's deal with federal prosecutors include him getting mental health treatment, authorities said.

Byron is accused in the state case with Troiano and Mikulski of betraying the public trust by collecting health benefits that they didn’t earn.

In order to be eligible for the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP), they needed to be full-time employees “whose hours of work are fixed at 35 or more per week” in their elected positions, Platkin said.

All three “enrolled in the SHBP and received publicly funded health benefits,” even though none of them clocked the necessary hours and “maintained no regular schedule,” the attorney general said.

They also didn’t get vacation, sick or personal days, he said.

Byron, 67, and Troiano, 72, 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, Platkin noted.

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, the attorney general said.

As a result, he said, Wildwood and the SHBP paid more than $286,500 in premiums and claims on behalf of Troiano from July 2011 through December 2019, and paid more than $608,900 in premiums and claims on behalf of Byron from July 2011 through October 2021.

Mikulski, 57, enrolled in the SHBP after becoming a member of Wildwood’s Commission in 2020. He enrolled in the SHBP and has since received publicly funded health benefits, Platkin noted. Wildwood and the SHBP have paid more than $103,000 in premiums and claims on his behalf through October 2021.

The new indictment is based on the 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.

It was secured by Deputy Attorneys General Brian Uzdavinis and Niccole Sandora of the OPIA Corruption Bureau and OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione, assisted by detectives from the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption South Unit.

The complaint charges Byron, Troiano and Mikulski with official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records.

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