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New Jersey gym owners who refused to close say state ‘seized’ all their legal defense funds

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The co-owner of a New Jersey gym who refused to remain closed through COVID-19 lockdowns enacted and prolonged for months by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday state officials have “seized” the business’ legal defense funds.

“Moments ago @GovMurphy and his cronies seized 100% of @TheAtilisGym legal defense money ($173,613.60) in the middle of our appeals process – effectively and intentionally interfering with our right to council. If you think that’s gonna make us stand down, you’re delusional,” Ian Smith, co-owner of the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, N.J., wrote on Twitter.

Smith went on to blast politicians in general for focusing on impeaching President Donald Trump rather than on small businesses like his that are suffering economic losses during lingering pandemic-related closures ordered by state and local governments.

Warning: Strong language

“It is abundantly clear that our politicians care more about Donald Trump than they do about the STILL F**KING SUFFERING American public,” he added.

As COVID-9 lockdowns that were initially only supposed to last a few weeks stretched into spring, the owners began to defy Gov. Phil Murphy’s order to keep gyms and other “non-essential” businesses closed, wracking up more than $1 million in fines over the course of last year.

In October, Smith and co-owner Frank Trumbetti said they received a letter from the office of the county sheriff demanding they turn over their assets to pay what amounted to nearly $260,000 in fines at that time.

“This is absolutely insane. Gov. Murphy wants to punish us because we proved him wrong,” Smith said in an Instagram video. “We showed the world that businesses can operate safely and that lockdowns are disastrous economically.”

The owners began pushing to reopen their gym a few months after Murphy ordered “non-essential businesses” including fitness centers to close, ostensibly to “flatten the curve” of the then-spreading novel coronavirus.

“We made the decision to open,” Smith told Fox News’ Pete Hegseth in May after kicking open locked doors, adding “we’re sick and tired of having our rights trampled on.”

“We will not stand down,” he added defiantly, though he said the ownership had developed a plan to reopen safely.

“We’ll be taking temperatures at the door, according to CDC recommendations. Anybody at the time who is a 100.4 or more will not be allowed in until their fever has subsided for at least 48 hours,” Smith said.

“We got spray bottles for each individual person so that anything that they touch will be disinfected before and after use … We’ve gone above and beyond and we have listed all of the steps and it’s so far beyond what the other stores are doing that, at this point, if the governor chooses to shut us down, it is absurd,” he added.

A day later, Smith told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that police returned to issue a summons after initially giving the owners a warning they must remain closed.

“I assume that they came back because they received an order from higher up,” he said.

In an appearance in August with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Smith noted, “We’re being villainized as small businesses in general, that we’re responsible for the spread, but over 50 percent of the deaths are coming from places that are supposed to be under a governor’s control.”

Later that month, the gym owners got somewhat of a reprieve when Murphy announced that gyms and fitness centers in the state could reopen by Sept. 1 with limited capacity.

“We have a lot of legal issues to resolve, and some legal issues of our own with Gov. Murphy. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Smith told Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto.

“This wasn’t about just reopening the gym and making money. From the beginning, this is about taking a stand for what we believe are gross violations of due process and our constitutional rights. He’s put us out of business officially, but we’ve stayed in business…Gov. Murphy got his way and got us, quote, ‘out of business,’ but we’re still open, and we’ll continue to be open until we get all these matters resolved.”

In doing so, the gym owners amassed fines that, by mid-December, amounted to $1.2 million, which they vowed not to pay after incurring roughly 60 citations and fines of $15,500 per day.

“We aren’t going to be paying them,” Smith said in an email to the Daily Caller.

“Leave us alone,” he added in a message to Murphy. “We have proved you wrong. Our business has been running for 7 months with better safety protocol than the entities you are responsible for running.”

Smith called Murphy’s sustained lockdowns “a complete tragedy” for scores of small businesses and owners in the state.

“What’s happening to the middle class and small businesses in America is nothing short of a complete tragedy,” he told Fox. “I would go so far as to call it criminal. You are putting people out of business for good.

Jon Dougherty

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