A number of oddities and inconsistencies in the news reporting of this case prompted this article.
This post is formatted in short bullet points meant to distinguish what we know from reliable sources (fact) and what we don’t know (commentary). I highlighted the words “tax preparer” and “attorney” because these are of particular personal interest.
- (commentary, explanation) I am writing this because I have a long history of covering or writing about local South Jersey tax controversy cases from the perspective of professional curiosity.
- (fact, disclosure) I am a certified New Jersey campaign treasurer who represents other South Jersey campaigns and elected officials, as well as other non-political clients involved in tax controversy, but I have none of this exposure in the City of Wildwood.
- (fact) On Friday March 24, 2023 U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger’s office released a report that Wildwood Mayor Peter J. Byron admitted he assisted in preparing fraudulent tax returns. He was charged with two counts of willfully aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of fraudulent tax returns to the IRS for calendar years 2017 and 2018. He is now facing up to three years in prison and a fine.
- (fact) Sentencing in this criminal case is scheduled for August 2. We do not have information on any legal procedure that might be active before then.
- (fact) Philip R. Sellinger is the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. As U.S. Attorney, he is responsible for overseeing all federal criminal prosecutions and the litigation of all civil matters in New Jersey in which the federal government has an interest. Including the offices in Newark, Camden, and Trenton, Mr. Sellinger supervises a staff of approximately 155 federal prosecutors and approximately 130 support personnel.
- (fact) The attorney handling the case for the government Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Kearney of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
- (commentary) Attorney Kearney has prosecuted other New Jersey tax fraud cases including at least one other by a New Jersey politician. He was the prosecutor in another case of personal local interest but I was unable to identify case that in my work writing this article today.
- (fact) Other news reporters usually known to be reliable added smaller details to the story that are incorporated here.
- (fact) The case reportedly involved underreporting of income for two tax years and falsely claiming tax deductions that were not supported.
- (fact) Several other law enforcement agencies including the FBI Atlantic City Public Corruption Task Force and the New Jersey State Police are credited with the investigation leading to the guilty plea.
- (commentary) This statement, along with the other facts, lead me to believe that the original complaint was focused on a public corruption matter other than tax evasion and that perhaps the guilty plea in the tax matter was a compromise settlement.
- (commentary, speculative) Normally when a taxpayer is confronted with a tax deficiency of this modest scope in a civil procedure, a reasonable taxpayer negotiates a settlement and pays the tax deficiency. This case makes it seem that Byron did not have that option available, perhaps because there were other unresolved issues under investigation. Tax fraud is often a ‘compromise’ conviction. (Think about the notorious Al Capone case).
- (fact) The mayor reportedly told a reporter for the Press of Atlantic City on the same day that he cannot comment on the news of the guilty plea. He did not say whether this was a provision of his plea agreement.
- (commentary, speculative) A prosecuting attorney may require nondisclosure if the plea agreement was negotiated in context of a larger legal investigation where cooperation of the person is expected before sentencing.
- (commentary) The charge of assisting others in preparing fraudulent tax returns is often used in cases where a tax preparer or law firm is accused of large scale tax return with multiple people. This does not seem to be the case here.
- (commentary) An unnamed tax preparer is implicated but there is no indication of wrongdoing. The press coverage indicates that the mayor misled the tax preparer.
- (fact) The mayor is reportedly represented by attorney Tom Young. This attorney is not implicated in any wrongdoing.
- (fact) The news reports indicate an unnamed attorney as “managing partner of a law firm in Gloucester County”. There is no implication that the managing partner is involved in any wrongdoing.
- (fact) There is no indication that the attorney “Tom Young” is the same person or with the same law firm in Gloucester County mentioned in the investigation.
- (fact) The New Jersey Superior Court directory of attorneys licensed to practice in New Jersey does not include any person who might be called “Tom Young”.
- (fact) A New Jersey attorney with the name “Tom Young” is formerly listed with a 22 year history with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, District of New Jersey, Nj Federal Public Defender, in Camden, New Jersey, where the criminal tax case is apparently being litigated. There is no indication that this person Tom Young is currently in practice of law.
- (fact) The case indicated a $40,425 dollar amount of unreported income, non-specified false tax deductions, only two years (2017 and 2018) and only one taxpayer (Byron).
- (fact) There is no indication why this tax case was referred to and accepted by criminal prosecutors.
- (commentary, speculative) This is a relatively small tax case for a federal tax prosecution. It is more common for tax cases of this scope to be handled in civil procedures. It leads me to speculate is something more was involved that it not reported in the news.
- (fact) Last year, Byron, and Wildwood City Commissioner Steven Mikulski and former Mayor Ernie Troiano were charged with wrongfully taking state health benefits and falsifying public records. There is no indication that this tax case prosecution stemmed from or is linked to that case.
- (commnetary, speculative) It seems possible that the small tax fraud case prosecution is intended to extract cooperation in a larger public corruption case.
- (fact) In 2020 Wildwood hosted a controversial political rally for then President Donald Trump, using public resources to pay for a political event. The event was reportedly led by controversial Congressman Jeff VanDrew. Mayor Byron told a reporter he was not invited to the political rally because he asked the GOP to reimburse Wildwood, and they refused.
- (fact) There is no indication that the tensions of the 2020 political rally are related to the tax fraud case or the other corruption cases.
- (commentary, speculative) It is unusual for a New Jersey government to venture so far into supporting such a controversial political rally. As far as we know, based on news reports, Wildwood was never reimbursed by the Trump campaign, VanDrew campaign, or GOP organizations.
- (commentary, speculative) My general nonspecific personal impression as a four decade resident of South Jersey is that Wildwood government has a reputation of corruption. Unfortunately, this is not unusual in New Jersey government.