Up to 30 years in prison avoided: Actor takes plea deal for having prop gun
After months of vowing to go to trial to fight weapons charges after he was arrested in November 2015 for using a prop gun on a movie set in Woodbridge, actor Carlo Bellario has opted to put the ordeal to rest by accepting a plea deal.
Jef Henninger, Bellario's attorney, told New Jersey 101.5 that Bellario accepted a deal that involves three years of probation, but the attorney has the right to petition the court for a shorter term of one year when Bellario is sentenced on Oct. 14.
Bellario pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of creating a false public alarm, the attorney said. He won't face any weapons charges under the deal.
Had he been indicted and convicted on the weapons charges his attorney predicted, he could have faced a baseline 15 years in prison. Bellario has a prior conviction for theft and could have been charged as a felon not allowed to have a weapon.
"Not only was he looking at 15 years, he could’ve been looking at 30 years because he’s extended term eligible due to his record," Henninger said, adding that his client's health and stress levels would have also suffered if he ended up behind bars. “You age so much faster in prison."
Henninger said Bellario's decision to accept the plea deal came as somewhat of a surprise. In fact, right up until they arrived at the courthouse in Middlesex County for the hearing, Bellario was still planning to reject the plea agreement, the attorney said.
"I think it finally sunk in for him that it’s not worth that type of gamble and so as a result, he took the deal," Henninger said.
Speaking on NJ 101.5's Deminski and Doyle program just minutes after the hearing, Bellario said his decision was based on several factors — including his two prior felonies. Bellario has served two, six-month sentences for theft and that record could have given the judge the option to double his prison sentence if the case went to trial and led to a conviction.
Bellario said the possibility of long-term incarceration weighed heavily in his decision to take the deal, and he said he also just wanted the entire ordeal to come to an end.
"I wanted this thing to be over more than anybody," Bellario told Deminski and Doyle. "I have nothing left emotionally, mentally, physically mentally, I'm drained."
The actor said he recently underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his leg and he's still recovering. He said the situation has taken a major toll on his finances as well.
In an update on his "Raw Deal for Carlo Bellario" GoFundMe page a few weeks ago, Bellario said he was "anxious to get this over with more than anyone else. If they believe me, then why are they still wanting to bring charges against me. I am so confused right now."
The page has raised more than $8,000 of a $15,000 goal to help cover his legal expenses.
Initially, Bellario's decision to reject the deal and take the matter to trial was "a matter of principle," he said. But in reviewing the deal and possible outcome of a trial, the actor said he came to the conclusion that "rolling the dice," as he had previously planned, wasn't worth the risk.
"So now you're looking at 30 years for filming a stupid movie," he said on New Jersey 101.5.
The incident leading to Bellario’s arrest happened on Nov. 16, 2015, when the actor showed up on the set of an indie movie — “Vendetta Games” — in response to a casting call he had seen in a Facebook group. He was tasked with playing a drug dealer’s bodyguard, and the scene was being shot in a residential neighborhood in Woodbridge.
Bellario said he was handed a what he was told was a prop gun. He climbed into the passenger seat of a vehicle, with two cameramen in the backseat, and another actor driving, and they took off to film the staged shootout. No actual shots were fired, he has said.
After they finished filming the scene, the actors returned to the main staging area, where Woodbridge police arrested him after getting calls from nervous neighbors who believed an actual shootout had taken place and that the Airsoft pistol Bellario was carrying was a weapon, he said. He then spent four days in Middlesex County Jail.
The police report is below:
Prior to Wednesday's hearing, Bellario said, prosecutors in Middlesex County investigated the incident and agreed that Bellario was unaware that the production company did not have the proper permits to film in Woodbridge, nor did they have permission to use the Airsoft pistol as a prob. Still, authorities argued that it was Bellario's responsibility to perform his own due diligence and make sure permits had been obtained.
He said given the fact that authorities finally believed that he did not bring the gun onto the movie set, Bellario said he was frustrated by the fact that they still "felt the need to punish him."
"I am not a criminal. I have a criminal past," Bellario said, adding that he plans to pursue a civil case against the production company. "They owe me for taking eight months out of my life."
Bellario said one of his concerns is that his acting and comedy gigs often take him to other states and probation could be a hindrance. His attorney, however, said there's a good chance that a probation officer will grant him permission to leave New Jersey for work-related purposes.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
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