New Jersey's Atilis Gym, which reopened against COVID-19 emergency orders, loses business license

BELLMAWR, N.J. — A New Jersey gym that reopened against statewide pandemic orders has lost its business license.

The 5-1 vote by the Bellmawr Borough Council on Tuesday night came nine days after the owners of Atilis Gym kicked in a plywood barrier installed by authorities after a state judge found the gym in contempt for violating court-ordered limits on indoor operations.

Related video: Tips to stay fit from your own living room

The gym’s owners, Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith, have also defied COVID-19 emergency orders imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

The license revocation took effect immediately, but patrons continued to use the gym Wednesday.

Returning to the gym? Tips to work out safely during COVID-19

At Tuesday's meeting, a lawyer for the gym owners argued the business did not threaten public safety.

“You’re saying they violated safety standards?” asked attorney John McCann. “What’s the standard?”

“Where’s the evidence that they’re a danger?” continued the attorney, who claimed the gym is “the safest place in New Jersey right now.”

Prior to the vote, Bellmawr Police Captain Michael Draham described repeated violations of shutdown orders at the gym.

The borough’s zoning officer, Jim Burleigh, also said the gym had failed to request township approval before moving some exercise equipment into the parking lot for patrons’ use.

Burleigh asserted large pieces of equipment outside the business could be a hazard for children.

McCann, however, argued borough officials had not shown the gym was a threat to public health. He contended no gym patrons have been infected by the coronavirus, attributing that information to Trumbetti and Smith.

“I take my clients at their word,” said the attorney, who noted Trumbetti's mother had died from COVID-19.

Should you wear a face mask to the gym? A look at the debate

McCann also said council members should require proof that the gym is a health risk.

“Demand the science from the state,” McCann said.

“The Atilis Gym would close tomorrow if we could see the science,” he added.

The state Attorney General’s Office has cited scientific reports to support the view that “extensive and prolonged interactions (at gyms) continue to present significant risks."

In a May 22 court filing, the state noted a study from South Korea found the risk of infection in gyms “is high, perhaps higher than other confined indoor spaces in which people remain for extended period (sic) of time."

Supporters talk to Atilis Gym partners Ian Smith, center, and Frank Trumbetti, left, outside the Bellmawr business on Saturday.
Supporters talk to Atilis Gym partners Ian Smith, center, and Frank Trumbetti, left, outside the Bellmawr business on Saturday.

The gym controversy has drawn sign-carrying, flag-waving supporters to the Bellmawr business and led to appearances by Trumbetti and Smith on national television.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Smith predicted the council session would be "very clearly an extension of Murphy's will." Smith also said he and Trumbetti were prepared to live at the gym in an effort to prevent its closing.

Several protest participants were among audience members who sharply criticized the council’s vote. Among other points, they claimed the COVID-19 death toll has been inflated and that the governor’s emergency orders are unconstitutional.

The license revocation “was damaging and it doesn’t promote unity,” said Dawn Fantasia, a Sussex County freeholder who attended the meeting remotely.

The only Bellmawr residents to speak supported the council’s vote.

“I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you,’” said Jesse Jamison.

Kathleen Mortka said her initial support for the gym ended when promised safety guidelines were not implemented.

"There are photos on social media … showing unmasked people who were not social distancing," Mortka told the council. She said that showed "they did not care about me or any other patrons."

Murphy closed gyms statewide under a March 16 order intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, which is blamed for more than 14,000 confirmed deaths and more than 1,800 probable deaths in New Jersey.

Persichilli issued another shutdown order May 20 after the gym reopened without authorization. The gym was allowed to reopen on June 15 to accommodate retail businesses inside the building.

The state took the gym back to court last month, alleging "wanton violation" of a court order that allowed only individualized instruction inside the building.

Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy in Trenton issued the contempt finding on July 24, setting the stage for Trumbetti and Smith to force their way into the closed gym on Aug. 1.

This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: New Jersey's Atilis Gym loses license after defying COVID-19 orders