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3 Wildwood Officials Reindicted in Health Benefits Case

An indictment against Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron (left)
Shay Roddy/File Photos
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, left, former Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., center, and Commissioner Steve Mikulski, right, were reindicted by a state grand jury July 31.

By Christopher South

TRENTON – The New Jersey Office of Attorney General (OAG) announced, Aug. 2, that a state grand jury returned a 12-count indictment on Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, Commissioner Steve Mikulski, and former Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr.

The indictment, filed July 31, reinstates charges originally filed in March for alleged official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records.

Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury Jr. dismissed the original charges, June 23, based on a technicality. In rendering his decision, DeLury said the state had not followed proper procedures in presenting its case to the grand jury.

DeLury said that not all the jurors were present for both of the two days of testimony, and some were provided written copies of witness testimony. In order to indict, all the jurors must have been present for in-person testimony.

Byron, 67, Mikulski, 57, and Troiano, 72, were all charged with using benefits of the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) to which they were not entitled.

According to information released by the OAG, Aug. 2, 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 SHBP and receive publicly funded health care. The OAG claims that neither Byron, Troiano, nor Mikulski were ever eligible because they were never full-time employees based on 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,” a press release issued by the OAG said.

In a previous administration, when Troiano was mayor, he, Byron, and then-Commissioner Anthony Leonetti passed a resolution saying they, as elected commissioners, were full-time employees of the city, and therefore eligible for state health care benefits.

Leonetti later withdrew from the SHBP after the commissioners were advised that their participation might not be proper. After the 2020 election, Mikulski joined the Wildwood Board of Commissioners and opted to participate in the SHBP. Commissioner Krista Fitzsimons, who was a county employee at the time, did not.

It was determined that 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. The SHBP reportedly paid over $103,000 in premiums and claims on Mikulski’s behalf from his enrollment through October 2021.

According to the OAG, 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.

The OAG alleged that Mikulski 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, the OAG release said.

Contact the author, Christopher South, csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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