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August 12, 2020

Bellmawr Borough Council strips Atilis Gym of business license

Co-owner Ian Smith calls vote a 'clear political move'

Government Gyms
Atilis Gym Bellmawr Street View/Google

Gyms are not permitted to reopen indoor operations in New Jersey, but Atilis Gym has proceeded otherwise in defiance of the state's COVID-19 guidelines.

Bellmawr Borough Council has voted to revoke Atilis Gym’s business license after delaying a hearing on the matter by a week due to Tropical Storm Isaias.

The 5-1 vote to strip the Camden County fitness center’s mercantile license was conducted during a meeting Tuesday night.

In an Instagram video, Atilis Gym co-owner Ian Smith slammed the vote as "a clear political move" by a Democrat-controlled board looking to appeal to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s wishes to have the defiant gym shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith also claimed that no evidence was presented showing the gym poses any threat to the public. The borough council declined to hold off on the vote despite being asked to wait until evidence could be presented, he said.

The borough's attorney, Howard Long, presented information about the nine pairs of citations issued to Smith and co-owner Frank Trumbetti and advised the council that it had the authority to revoke the license if it believed the business was acting in an unsafe manner, reported

Smith claimed the public was not given a chance to comment on the matter. Smith's attorney, John McCann, spoke during the hearing, though Smith did not comment, WHYY reportedA public comment period took place after the vote.

New Jersey has not permitted gyms and fitness centers to reopen indoor operations since ordering all non-essential businesses to close in March. 

Atilis Gym’s co-owners will be back in court Friday, Smith said in a video posted on Facebook.

The state has sought to implement daily fines of up to $15,000 on the facility for violating a court order to remain closed. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office also has asked Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy to consider potential jail time for Smith, 33, and Trumbetti, 51.

After Tuesday's hearing, Smith said he and Trumbetti will not be leaving the building and will refuse to allow the state to construct a barricade on the gym's doors if Lougy permits their request to do so. 

“We take no pleasure in this process," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. "But we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and defendants have defied multiple court orders. If we’re going to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in New Jersey, we need everyone in this state – including gym owners – to do their part and follow the law.”

The revocation of the gym's license was the latest development in an ongoing legal battle. 

Smith and Trumbetti reopened their fitness center earlier this month by kicking down the boards placed over the entrance following their arrests in late July. Their actions resulted in a new disorderly conduct summons issued by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. 

Smith and Trumbetti previously had been 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. 

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.

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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