NJ actor arrested for fake gun could face more than 5 years in jail, attorney says
NEW BRUNSWICK — The New Jersey actor arrested for using a prop gun while filming a movie in Middlesex County is facing at least five to 10 years in prison after rejecting a plea deal that would have sentenced him to just three years in prison.
Carlo Bellario on Tuesday appeared before a Superior Court judge for a pre-indictment conference and refused the deal, which could have let him out of prison early, his attorney, Jeff Henninger said.
Bellario insists that he's not taking any plea deal that involves prison time. He told New Jersey 101.5 that he'll take his chances with a jury rather than accept a deal that lands him behind bars.
"No pun intended, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one," Bellario said. “I’ll take any plea deal that involves no jail time.”
The case has renewed the debate over the state's gun laws, with some lawmakers calling for reforms that would give prosecutors more discretion in charging people who may accidentally break a gun law.
According to Henninger, the actor's previous legal record could come back to haunt him and compound the charges if he decides to proceed with a trial instead of a plea agreement. Bellario, who has a felony record, is not permitted to own or use a firearm. Henninger said if convicted by a jury, he could face a "certain persons" charge under the state's Graves Act.
"Certain people are not allowed to possess or own firearms. If you have a felony criminal record you cannot possess firearms and if you do you become a 'certain person,'" Henninger said.
In a separate interview with New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea Wednesday morning, Bellario said he'd previously served two six-month stints in prison for thefts. He said he's moved past food addiction issues and personal problems that prompted the crimes.
Bellario described his crimes as "nothing with guns, nothing with drugs, nothing of sex crimes, no violence."
"I'm offended by this whole process and the way this is playing out," Spadea told him Wednesday.
The Graves Act requires a minimum term of imprisonment and parole ineligibility for some firearm-related offenses. Bellario's attorney said his client could face additional charges under the act if convicted. Henninger said violation of the Graves Act comes with "harsh penalties."
“He’s rolling the dice with at least four years but if he's convicted of everything he could get multiple charges," Henninger said, adding that additional charges could mean a much longer jail sentence. "It’s a big gamble on his part at the moment but we still have time to maneuver.”
Henninger said he's ready to go to bat for Bellario should he decide to go to trial.
"With this type of case I’m fully prepared to go in whatever direction he wants. The ball is in his court," Henninger told New Jersey 101.5. "I told him to give it very careful consideration. I’m not gonna push him either way. My personal view is that he should not be getting punished for shooting a movie."
Henninger said right now, Bellario's record "is a red herring" because whether you have a felony record or not, weapons offenses carry serious penalties in New Jersey.
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 said.
After they finished filming the scene, the actors returned to the main staging area. That’s when Woodbridge police showed up after nervous neighbors, believing an actual shootout was taking place in their quiet, residential neighborhood, contacted authorities.
Bellario said he tried to explain that the gun — which a Woodbridge police report identified as an Airsoft pistol — was just a prop, but police still took him into custody.
The police report states Belaario did not have a permit to carry the Airsoft gun, and was also wearing the pistol in a holster. Both are in violation of NJ state statutes. Following his arrest, Bellario spent four days in Middlesex County jail.
Al Martin, who owns Broadway Comedy Club and Greenwich Village Comedy Club in New York said what happened to Bellario could happen to any actor, and it's very unsettling.
“It’s insanity," said Martin, who has worked with Bellario many times. “I can’t believe this thing has gone this far. This is something I can see easily happening to another comedian.”
Bellario, who was hospitalized recently for stress-related headaches and chest pain, says he’s “drained” from the entire ordeal. The actor told NJ 101.5 that he “feels like his career and life is over.”
“I just wanna hang myself right now,” he said Tuesday on the Deminski and Doyle show.
To help raise enough funds to hire an attorney and pay off debts related to the case, Bellario started a GoFundMe page. He’s received numerous donations from supporters, including Republican Assemblymen Jon Bramnick and Declan O’Scanlon.
Bellario said he’s hoping to continue raising money to cover the mounting legal expenses and he wants to make sure this never happens to another actor in the Garden State.