NJ prosecutors watching Atilis Gym’s videos to add up fines
BELLMAWR — As Atilis Gym in Camden County takes to social media with bold statements of defiance against Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus business restrictions – and the many ways the gym has been slapped by state and local authorities for refusing to comply – New Jersey officials are taking notes.
Following several videos posted online by gym co-owner Ian Smith in November, the state Office of the Attorney General on Dec. 10 filed a motion seeking nearly $124,000 from Smith and his business partner, Frank Trumbetti, alleging violations of COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
That amount is eight days worth of the $15,500 daily sanction approved against the gym months earlier, levied each day that the property is not in full compliance with state pandemic protocols for gyms and fitness centers.
Those restrictions, outlined in late August, include reduced indoor capacity of 25%,(which for Atilis is a maximum of 60 people at one time), mask wearing by all adults physically able to do so (which Smith said in a video just days ago will never be required at his gym), social distancing and barriers between workout equipment.
The Dec. 10 court filing outlines “Atilis Gym’s outrageous behavior and unjustifiable contemptuous conduct” on at least the following eight dates in November: 17, 20 through 24, 29 and 30, as seen in video clips shared online by Smith.
The court motion says “social media posts leave no room for confusion,” that the business owners are freely violating existing orders. It lists a description of each video documented in the eight days, along with which protocols are allegedly being violated in each — such as no masks worn or more than 60 occupants seen inside at once.
Just a day or so after the motion was filed, a new video featuring Smith inside the gym began racking up views on Instagram and Twitter.
The video was posted by Smith to Instagram (it features a passing gym user briefly showing his middle finger on camera) and then was reposted by others, including Twitter user "Brother Lobo" who captioned it “This Energy but with Assault Rifles.”
In the video, Smith holds up a series of printouts, dropping one at a time. He says the gym has racked up more than $1 million in fines, its business license has been suspended, its doors have been barricaded, the owners have been arrested and received more than 60 citations, and there have been 84,000 visits during the pandemic.
That presumably includes several thousand during the months when Murphy's executive orders had gyms shut entirely – during which Atilis operated in open defiance.
Another says Atilis will never require masks.
"Gov. Murphy will see this video and fine us $15K for it," one of Smith's signs says.
"But ... free men don't ask permission. Or for forgiveness," Smith's signs say.
Another user, Mansoor Shams, who goes by the Twitter handle Muslim Marine, also re-shared the video. Shams added a message directed at Gov. Phil Murphy, writing: "This anti-masker gym owner in your state is calling you out. He’s not only challenging you but also encouraging bad behavior. Please act swiftly, shut him down for good and share a similar video (of shutting him down) as an example for others. Anxiously awaiting.”
A GoFundMe campaign to benefit Trumbetti and Smith has raised more than $352,000 from nearly 8,000 separate donations over the past several months.
The campaign description says the money “will be for the defense of Atilis Gym Bellmawr members as well as staff and volunteers. Money will also be utilized to pay the bills for the months we have been closed due to the COVID pandemic.”
In August, Bellmawr Borough Council voted 5-1 to revoke the gym's business license, based on its defiance of past court orders to shut down.
“We are still stuck in the state court appeal after appeal after appeal. They are dragging out our criminal case in order to keep us out of federal court,” Smith said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5 on Sunday.
Smith also said Atilis is suing the borough, regarding the lost business license.
Back in August, under the court order that approved retroactive daily fines against Smith and Trumbetti, the business was already were facing more than $300,000 in fines dating back to May.
Smith said on Sunday that the gym also is helping build a "Web database of businesses open across the country and helping others get the resources and help they need to open" against COVID-19 lockdowns.
Murphy said at Monday’s state briefing on pandemic response that "Overwhelmingly, restaurateurs, gym operators, to pick two categories, are doing the right thing under extreme duress. I think what it does indicate ... with numbers like this, we have no choice but to ramp up enforcement."