NJ requests daily $10,000 fine, right to lockup Atilis Gym owners
BELLMAWR — State officials have asked a judge to allow hefty fines of at least $10,000 a day and possible jail time for defiant gym owners who repeatedly have reopened their business against pandemic restrictions and a judge’s previous order.
Atilis Gym co-owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti were issued new disorderly persons summonses by mail after they broke back into their business Saturday and led other members inside without wearing face coverings, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Additionally, Smith and Trumbetti also are facing a possible revocation of their business license at the municipal level, as the Bellmawr Borough Council will consider the issue at a Tuesday evening meeting, starting at 5 p.m. The meeting is being held both in-person and remotely, due to the continued novel coronavirus pandemic.
Smith, 33, and Trumbetti, 51, kicked down plywood barricading the gym’s entrance, days after a new contempt order was issued against the business. They responded by removing the front doors from their hinges, as Smith previously told New Jersey 101.5 they would do.
“This amount is clearly within Atilis Gym’s means, because, as of Aug. 3, at 9 a.m., it has raised $143,245 through a fundraiser posted on Gofundme.com,” Deputy Attorney General Stephen Slocum said in a request submitted Monday to the judge.
According to Slocum, the gym owners have at least 14 criminal citations for not following executive orders from Gov. Phil Murphy, in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Murphy has scaled back restrictions on many kinds of businesses first put in place at the start of the pandemic in part, but continues to bar gym facilities from operating. The state currently only allows one-on-one personal training, by appointment.
On July 27, Smith, of Delanco Township, and Trumbetti, of Williamstown, were arrested on contempt of court and obstruction charges, after continuing to operate their gym beyond the state's parameters and defying a court's order to stop. A judge had issued a contempt order against them days earlier, according to court documents.
As part of Saturday's reopening, Smith said on Facebook that the gym had been reorganized from a limited liability company to a private membership association, which Smith believes places the gym outside the reach of local and state regulators. The state Office of the Attorney General had no comment Sunday when asked by New Jersey 101.5 whether the reorganization of the gym as a PMA would legally impact the continued standoff with the state over pandemic restrictions.
Attorney James Mermigis said Sunday in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5 “This is a personal attack by the governor against my clients. The governor has engaged in one hypocrisy after another yet chooses to single out my clients.”
New Jersey remains in phase 2 of its planned three-phase reopening, since the state largely shutdown in March, originally closing most retail, entertainment and other businesses deemed "non-essential."
Murphy has said he's reluctant to let gyms begin operating indoors again, saying strenuous and often stationary physical activity, heavy breathing, and the indoor setting make for a dangerous confluence of factors.
Smith and Trumbetti were locked out of the gym in May on state health violations. They regained access a month later to run nutrition and clothing sales, an authorization the state says they violated in part by allowing indoor workouts.
Mermigis said “Not one person from the government has yet to visit and inspect the gym for the safety precautions in place.”
Camden County health officials inspected the gym July 15, according to a court filing by the state. At the time, there were about 40 people working out inside Atilis Gym, in violation of state directives first issued in March to stem the spread of COVID-19, officials said.
Includes previous reporting by Sergio Bichao