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August 05, 2020

New Jersey seeks daily $10,000 fines for defiant Atilis Gym owners

Bellmawr Borough Council considers business license removal

Courts Gyms
Atilis Gym Bellmawr Street View/Google

Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti have argued that New Jersey's COVID-19 business restrictions are unconstitutional.

The New Jersey Attorney General's Office is asking a state judge to impose stricter punishments on the Atilis Gym owners, who have waged a public battle against the state's COVID-19 business restrictions. 

The state has recommended Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy consider daily fines of $10,000 and possible imprisonment for Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, the co-owners of the Bellmawr, Camden County gym, Smith said in a video on the fitness center's Facebook page.

Bellmawr Borough Council also is considering a motion to strip the gym of its business license. The matter was scheduled to be addressed at a meeting Tuesday, but it was postponed due to Tropical Storm Isaias. 

Smith, 33, and Trumbetti, 51, reopened their fitness center last weekend by kicking down the boards covering the entrance, which was boarded-up following their arrests last week. Their actions resulted in new disorderly conduct summons issued by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. 

Last week, Smith and Trumbetti were charged with contempt, obstruction and violation of a disaster control act for defying a court order, issued by Lougy, to shut down in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. Both men were arrested after refusing to leave the fitness center despite a contempt of court order against them.

Smith claimed they opened the gym after switching the facility from a limited liability company to a private membership association. He said Murphy and five other state officials were served with affidavits notifying them of the business change, but had failed to respond. 

Two weeks ago, Camden County health inspectors found that the gym failed to provide staff with gloves and masks, exceeded capacity limits and did not implement social distancing. The gym also had covered its windows, blocking anyone from seeing into the building from the outside.

Lougy then ordered Atilis Gym to close, but a number of people were observed using the facility. The order had permitted the health department to place a lock on the doors, but Smith and Trumbetti removed the door from its hinges and said they would not leave.

Before the court order, Lougy had ruled that the gym could remain open if it followed New Jersey’s COVID-19 guidelines. The owners indicated they had no intention of doing so. 

Atilis Gym first reopened on May 18, defying the state's shutdown orders and prompting national media attention. The gym remained open for three days before it was shut down by state health officials, beginning a legal battle that has dragged on ever since.

Smith and Trumbetti tried to sue the state in federal court, but a judge dismissed the case last month, saying he would not interfere with New Jersey enforcing its COVID-19 restrictions. The facility then filed an appeal in state court, but Smith said that they were not granted an injunction.

The gym has held some indoor workouts, against the state's orders, since early July.

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