⚫ South Jersey gym owners lose court appeal and must pay hefty fines

⚫ They continuously violated Gov. Murphy's executive orders during the pandemic

⚫ Both argued that their gym deemed "non-essential" was indeed "essential"

BELLMAWR — The owners of a South Jersey gym that made headlines when they refused to shut its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s statewide mandates, lost their appeal in court on Wednesday.

That means Atilis Gym in Bellmawr must pay almost $124,000 in fines.

The co-owners at the time appealed the fines. In multiple proceedings, the court found that Atilis disobeyed a series of Department of Health orders and related court orders.

In March 2020, the governor issued an executive order which classified types of businesses as “essential” and “non-essential” and ordered the closure of the latter. Gyms and fitness centers, along with other “recreational and entertainment businesses” were classified as “non-essential.”

But owners Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith refused to keep the gym closed, reopened in May 2020, and from then on, continuously violated executive orders. Bellmawr police officers issued summonses to the co-owners for such violations.

It culminated with Smith and Trumbetti kicking in a plywood barricade at the front door and refusing to enforce mask mandates.

These actions led the state to ask the court to fine the owners more than $15,000 for each day they violated such executive orders. The court complied.

In their appeal, Atilis argued the court “erred by denying its motion to stay the enforcement proceedings until the disposition of criminal charges pending in municipal court against its owners. It asserts the owners were rendered unable to provide a defense in the civil action without potentially incriminating themselves, in violation of their Fifth Amendment rights,” according to the appeal.

But the state appellate court concluded that Atilis’ collateral attacks on DOH orders were not properly brought in this appeal. Therefore, since it found no merit in Atilis’ arguments, it ruled the owners were bound by the public health emergency rules issued by Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

The commissioner moved to impose judgement in the amount of $123,982, representing the eight days of the daily sanction amount.

More problems have continued to plague Smith. He launched a bid for Congress in 2022, but after entering the race, he was arrested on drunk driving charges in Cinnaminson. He was cleared of the charge but pleaded guilty to refusing to take a breathalyzer test and careless driving, according to his attorney, Christopher St. John of Haddonfield.

Smith went on to lose the Republican primary to businessman Bob Healy. Smith then joined the Libertarian Party.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this report misstated Smith's business relationship with Atilis Gym.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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