Three political figures in one Cape May County town have been charged for allegedly fraudulently participating in the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP).

Attorney General Matthew Platkin says Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, former Mayor Ernie Troiano, Jr., and current City Commissioner Steven Mikulski have been charged with second-degree theft by unlawful taking and third-degree tampering with public records or information.

Since 2010, the state 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 employer-provided 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.

According to Platkin's office, Troiano and Byron voted in 2011 to pass a resolution that declared themselves full-time employees working "a minimum of 35 hours per week" for the City of Wildwood and then 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.

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Platkin says Mikulski became a member of Wildwood’s Commission in 2020 and enrolled in the SHBP, which has paid over $103,000 in premiums and claims on his behalf through October, 2021. The state alleges that he knowingly made false statements in a "health benefits enrollment and/or change form" submitted to the City of Wildwood.

Platkin said in a statement, "Today we bring charges against current and former public and elected officials for what we allege are egregious breaches of the public trust. We will work tirelessly to root out public corruption and restore faith in our institutions."

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The mayor responds

An attorney for Byron told WCAU-TV the mayor "did nothing wrong" and that "he will be vindicated."

Potential penalties

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison and a $150,000 fine. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

The public is reminded that charges are accusations and all persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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