A New Jersey gym owner was arrested on Monday after repeatedly violating Governor Phil Murphy's corona virus restrictions on business. This has become a rallying point for small business advocates destroyed by the pandemic.
Bellmawr New Jersey's Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith  and Frank Trumbetti  were arrested on Monday morning at around 5:30 a.m.ET after refusing to leave the gym and the police closed their shop, her lawyer, James Mermigis, had boarded up, said in an interview with CNBC.
Smith and Trumbetti were both charged with contempt, disability, and violation of a fourth-degree civil protection law, according to a statement by Camden County's current prosecutor, Jill S. Mayer.
The arrest marks an escalation in the clash between the state of New Jersey and the two gym owners, who have rigorously checked the boundaries and at times opposed the governor's order to close many nonessential companies to curb the spread of the state's coronavirus.
Murphy ordered gyms and other companies to close on March 21 as the virus spread rapidly across the state, particularly in the northern region near New York City. Since then, he has allowed many companies to resume operations with some restrictions, including outdoor training courses and indoor one-to-one tuition in gyms. However, normal operation in the gym remains prohibited without a known return flight date.
"After Atilis Gym refused to comply with several Supreme Court punitive quotes and orders, including a contempt for Friday's court order, law enforcement officials entered the premises today to ensure the closure of the gym and reduce public health risks." A spokesman for New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. "As the attorney general said earlier, the state wished it hadn't happened, but the gym refused to comply with a contempt warrant."
The coronavirus has infected more than 179,812 people in New Jersey and killed at least 15,800 people, according to the state health ministry.
During the public health crisis, the owners of Atilis Gym attracted national attention by defying the restrictions and appearing on talk shows such as "Fox and Friends" and "Tucker Carlson Tonight".
"They now have such a large following at national level that a lot of people come from the state just to hang out and say they were there," Mermigis lawyer said in an interview. "A lot of people have followed these guys since they joined Tucker Carlson in mid-May."
Smith and Trumbetti reopened their gym for the first time on May 18, Mermigis said, despite the governor's order and surrounded by American flag supporters who sang "USA," a video released on Twitter at the time shows.
A judge previously ruled that owners could reopen part of the gym, which also houses a retail store that sells vitamins, protein powders, and other products, Mermigis said. He added that while the store's retail segment was allowed to reopen, they were still prohibited from resuming indoor training. From June 16 to July 4, owners moved the equipment outdoors and held outdoor training courses, Mermigis said.
After the gym relocated its workouts back inside, a judge ruled last week that Smith and Trumbetti were being despised in court, paving the way for stronger government measures. Mermigis claims that the governor's order and the way it was enforced were "unconstitutional" and that the judge's case against the two owners was "weak". He added that they are appealing the verdict.
In a video posted on the gym's Facebook page, one of the owners, Smith, said that he and Trumbetti were sleeping in the gym to prevent the police from closing the shop.
"Frank and I stayed here last night and we're ready to stay in the building no matter what happens," Smith said in the video. "We will not back away under any circumstances."
A video posted on the gym's Facebook page the previous Monday shows at least one police vehicle in front of the gym, and shows officers detaining Smith.
"Welcome to America 2020, where it is illegal to feed your family and stand up for your constitutional rights," the post said, adding that Murphy "is finally letting his little tyrant muscles play."