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UPDATE: Wildwood Mayor Gets Probation for Tax Fraud; New Info Added

UPDATE: Wildwood Mayor Gets Probation for Tax Fraud; New Info Added

By Shay Roddy

Shown is a file photo of Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron in Cape May County Superior Court March 17.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron in Cape May County Superior Court March 17. One week later
Shay Roddy/File Photo
Shown is a file photo of Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron in Cape May County Superior Court March 17.

CAMDEN – A federal judge sentenced Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron to three years of probation during a hearing in U.S. District Court, Aug. 2. The embattled mayor pleaded guilty to two felony tax fraud charges earlier this year, after admitting to failing to disclose or pay taxes on more than $40,000 income over the tax years of 2017 and 2018.

During the 45-minute proceeding, U.S. District Judge Karen M. Williams also ordered Byron to pay a fine of $14,000 in addition to $7,014 in restitution to the IRS, which must be paid off in total monthly installments of no less than $300.

Byron must also undergo mental health treatment, after saying stress was a motive in committing the crimes.

While the sentencing guidelines allowed for up to six months of incarceration and one year of supervised release, Williams pointed out that a probationary sentence was no free pass and that supervision by federal probation officers is not true freedom.

“Mr. Byron is 68 years old and, probably for the first time in his adult life, he’ll be held accountable to someone who does not love him,” the judge said from the bench in her fourth floor courtroom inside the Mitchell H. Cohen U.S. Courthouse in Camden.

In addition to a term of imprisonment, under the sentencing guidelines, Williams could have given the Wildwood mayor up to five years of probation and $20,000 in fines. She called the felony conviction “a serious offense.”

However, Williams said she believes no one should be judged on the worst thing they’ve done and based on the presentence report she reviewed, this is the worst thing Byron has done.

“Notwithstanding, it’s pretty bad,” the judge added of the two felonies of which the mayor has now been convicted.

According to the information to which Byron pleaded guilty, in September 2017, a lawyer at a Gloucester County firm, identified only in court documents as “Individual-1,” established a new business and Byron was hired to do sales work for the company after receiving an offer letter with the forged signature of Individual-1’s law partner. Byron then made $40,425 in compensation from the company, which he failed to report or pay taxes on.

Unmasking Individual-1′

The Herald has reviewed a copy of the offer letter and the newspaper has identified the person the government is calling “Individual-1” as Douglas M. Long. The letter bears the forged signature of attorney Albert K. Marmero, Long’s former law partner.

In December 2021, Long was sentenced to 14 months in prison in his own federal tax case. He was previously on the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders and is the former co-chair of the Cumberland County Democratic Party. Long reportedly surrendered his law license as a result of the tax conviction in 2021.

It’s unclear what duties Byron, a Democrat, performed for the company, or how he was connected to Long. It’s also unclear what services the company, which the letter the Herald obtained identified as Hydro 2O LLC, performed.

In January 2017, Byron and his two fellow commissioners voted to hire Long to become Wildwood’s tax counsel at a rate of $150 per hour.

A request for public records submitted by the Herald to the City of Wildwood for communications between Byron and Long revealed that the two scheduled lunches together at a Wildwood pizzeria and another location near Asbury Park in February and March of 2017.

In one February 2017 email exchange, Byron solicits Long’s advice on a planner to help with a proposal to update the city’s Master Plan.

In October 2017, Byron received the letter with the job offer containing the forged signature of Long’s law partner.

By September 2018, Byron had made more than $40,000 in compensation from the job.

A Slap on the Wrist?

While Byron failed to pay only about $7,000 in taxes, a small number relative to many of the tax cases that are regularly heard in federal court, prosecutors argued for a stiff sentence as a deterrent to the public, other elected officials, and Byron in the future.

Byron was running Wildwood’s finance department when he committed the crimes and cannot use ignorance as an excuse, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Kearney, representing the government at the hearing, told the judge.

Williams said probation will not be easy for “someone like Mr. Byron, who has gone pretty much unchecked as a public official, doing as he pleases. Now, that ability is gone. For at least three years.”

In a sentencing memorandum submitted prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Byron included 29 character letters, which the judge said “run the gamut of the Wildwood community,” from individuals and organizations, including Byron’s pastor, personal friends, local business owners, real estate colleagues, churches, a food pantry, charity organizations, and others.

One, Williams said, was from the director and manager of Morey’s Piers.

“You don’t know Wildwood if you don’t know Morey’s Piers,” the judge remarked.

Byron, known by many in Wildwood as an affable public official and flashy dresser, stood stoic throughout the proceedings, clad in a muted tan suit, beside his attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Thomas Young. He did briefly address the court and apologized for his crimes, telling the judge it won’t happen again.

“You can take it to the bank,” Byron said to Williams.

He called the last year extremely difficult for him and his family and said that while he was humbled, “I continue to do my job and hold my head up high.”

Still in Office?

Byron made no indication he would resign from his position as Wildwood’s mayor. He did not respond to a message from the Herald after court requesting an interview.

A New Jersey statute (N.J.S.2C:51-2) requires public officials who are convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, involving their official duties, or of the third-degree or higher (or the equivalent in another jurisdiction like federal court) to leave public office.

While the maximum sentence for the crime Byron pleaded guilty to is three years in prison and a third-degree conviction in New Jersey carries a five-year maximum, Byron may still be disqualified from office under the statute because of the dishonesty prong.

Wildwood City Solicitor Louis A. DeLollis previously told the Herald the city was still researching the implications of Byron’s guilty plea after it was entered in March. DeLollis did not return a voicemail from the Herald after sentencing, the time a judgement of conviction is officially entered, on the city’s position on Byron’s eligibility to continue to serve.

In addressing the court, Kearney, the prosecutor, said Byron “knowingly and willfully” filed the false tax returns.

“How do we know that? We have a factual basis that was taken before Your Honor in March,” Kearney argued to the court.

In a March interview after Byron pleaded guilty, Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey, told the Herald the government would not get involved in Byron’s ability to remain in office.

In addition to the 29 character letters, Byron’s defense lawyer submitted a news clipping to the court as part of the presentence memorandum, describing an April public meeting in which the mayor enjoyed vocal support despite his guilty plea in federal court and the open charges he is facing in state court.

“In this court’s experience, when there’s an open public meeting where citizens appear, that’s where they usually voice their concerns and lack of trust and issues they have with the governing body,” the judge remarked. “Quite the opposite happened here.”

Other Legal Woes

Byron is also facing charges in state court for allegedly unlawfully accepting health benefits despite not working full time in his elected position. Byron, along with former Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. and sitting Commissioner Steve Mikulski, his codefendants in the state case, had a previously returned indictment dismissed by a Superior Court judge in June.

However, the case was dismissed on a technicality and without prejudice. A state grand jury returned a new indictment, July 31, after a re-presentment of the case by state prosecutors.

In a statement, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the latest indictment “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 is due back in state court to face those charges later this month.

Contact the author, Shay Roddy, at sroddy@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 142.

Reporter

Shay Roddy is a Delaware County, Pennsylvania native who has always spent as much of his summers as he could at the Jersey Shore. He went to Friends’ Central and is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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