Health benefits

Wildwood officials charged with health benefits fraud | Government and politics

WILDWOOD — Mayor Pete Bryon, former Mayor Ernest V. Troiano Jr. and current City Commissioner Steven E. Mikulski were charged Friday with fraudulently participating in the state health benefits program, the Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.

Byron, 67; Troiano, 71; and Mikulski, 57, were each charged with theft by unlawful taking and tampering with information from public records.

The investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability began with a referral to the state Pensions and Benefits Division, Platkin said.

“Today, we bring charges against current and former public and elected officials for what we allege are breaches of public trust,” Platkin said in a press release. “We will work tirelessly to eradicate public corruption and restore trust in our institutions.”

Since 2010, New Jersey law has required elected officials to be full-time employees “whose hours of work are set at 35 or more hours per week” in order to participate in the state health benefits program and receive benefits. health care provided by the employer.

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The investigation found that Byron, Troiano and Mikulski were never eligible because they were never full-time employees as defined by state law, Platkin said. They weren’t given vacation, sick or personal time off, and they didn’t maintain any regular schedules.

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It is alleged, however, that all three fraudulently enrolled in the scheme and received state-funded health benefits.

“Pete Byron did nothing wrong,” Byron’s attorney, William J. Hughes Jr., said in a statement shortly after Platkin’s announcement.

“The thing is, they worked over 35 hours,” Hughes said of his client as well as Troiano and Mikulski.

Hughes said a local town resolution that allowed the men to register had been approved by the city’s administration and legal counsel and that the men’s registration was known to the public.

Troiano and Byron were elected to Wildwood’s three-member city commission in 2011, and Troiano was sworn in as mayor. Both voted in 2011 to pass a resolution that declared themselves full-time employees working “a minimum of 35 hours per week” for Wildwood, Platkin said. They then enrolled in the state health benefit program.

Although Troiano and Byron did not work a regular full-time schedule, Platkin said, they falsely signed and submitted time sheets to the city indicating they worked full days Monday through Friday.

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As a result, Wildwood and the state plan paid more than $286,500 in bounties and claims on Troiano’s behalf from July 2011 to December 2019. As for Byron – who was sworn in as mayor in January 2020 after defeating Troiano – the state plan has paid over $608,900 in premiums and claims on its behalf from July 2011 through 2021.

Mikulski became a commissioner for Wildwood in 2020. He enrolled in the state plan, and since then Wildwood and the plan have paid more than $103,000 in premiums and claims on his behalf through October. 2021. It is alleged that Mikulski knowingly made false statements in a “Health Benefit Enrollment and/or Change Form” submitted by the city.

Hughes said the state, had it known there was a problem, should have alerted the city.

“Rather than approach the city and tell them there’s a problem, they’ve made it a criminal case,” Hughes said. “State law isn’t that clear and Pete Byron didn’t break the law and he’s going to be vindicated.”

Hughes’ other point was that the state, when the law was being prepared, said it was going to provide advice regarding elected officials.

“And they never did.” said Hugh.

Contact John Russo: 609-272-7184

Twitter: @ACPress_Russo