DEFIANT: Controversial New Jersey Republican candidate facing DUI trial won’t bow out

DEFIANT: Controversial New Jersey Republican candidate facing DUI trial won't bow out

Gym owner Ian Smith of New Jersey, a Republican candidate running in the GOP primary to represent the 3rd Congressional district, is no stranger to controversy…or running afoul of the law. His arrest for DUI on March 27th proves that, as does his status as a convicted killer in a  vehicular homicide case in 2007.

The owner of Atilis Gym, located in Bellmawr, NJ, became a hometown MAGA hero during the 2020 COVID lockdowns by defying coronavirus mandates implemented by Governor Phil Murphy and keeping his gym open — bucking shutdowns, and racking up huge fines and legal fees in the process.

Smith stormed his own business to open the barricaded doors after they were shuttered. He encouraged his gym customers to work-out unmasked and offered free gym memberships to the unvaccinated.

Did I mention, he’s a 9/11 truther?

In a time when conspiracy theories trump facts for a third of the country and thumbing your nose at mask and vaccine mandate has propelled MAGA and Q crazies to notoriety, Smith figured he’d throw his hat in the political ring, announcing his intention to run for Congress via Twitter at the end of January.

Pulled over shortly after midnight in the parking lot of a shopping center on March 27th, Smith was given a field sobriety test – and passed. But it was his refusal to submit to a breathalyzer that prompted officers to take Smith in. Something Steve Kush, spokesman for the gym owner’s campaign, has very vocally criticized, suggesting that the arrest and charges are some kind of “vendetta” against his client, based on Smith’s anti-establishment views. Smith told New Jersey’s 101.5:

“I immediately wondered why Ian was pulled over in the first place. The Governor obviously hates him! Establishment politicians don’t want him. Andy Kim and the Democrats continuously send emails using Ian’s name to raise money. The cufflink and cologne faction of the Republican Party don’t want him. And have gone so far as to warn fellow Republicans to stay away from Ian until after the primary.”

Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), is the current incumbent and a popular one, winning his last race by 8 points. As far as the “cufflink and cologne” faction goes – Smith’s primary challenger is yacht maker Bob Healey. Healey released a statement calling Smith “unfit” and “unelectable,” taking special offense to Smith’s comments questioning the origins of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The father of Healey’s campaign manager, Theresa Velard, was killed in the 9/11 attacks when she was six years old.

Kush has demanded that the Cinnaminson Police Department release the bodycam footage prior to Smith’s appearance in court on April 14th, insinuating that showing that Smith passed the sobriety test will clear his client’s name.

But passing a field sobriety test is not definitive “proof” that one hasn’t been drinking or isn’t under the influence. Plus, DUI isn’t the only charge Smith is facing. He was also charged with reckless driving and careless driving.

Kush blames Smith’s erratic driving on a “gust of wind”.

I reached out to Kush, co-host of the weekly radio show, Bob & Steve – via Twitter message. I asked, in light of his client’s past and present legal troubles, if Smith plans on staying in the Congressional race, and why Kush believes that Governor Murphy hates his client.

No reply.

There are times when the benefit of the doubt is warranted, but when the person in question has a history of driving carelessly, recklessly and under the influence – not so much.

In 2007 — when Ian Smith was 20 years old — he blew through a stop sign, causing a crash that killed 19-year-old Kevin Ade. The Press of Atlantic City covered the case, and according to their reports:

“The crash turned Ade’s car onto its side and Smith’s car shoved it into a tree. Ade was pronounced dead at the scene.”

The “rules don’t apply to me” gym owner pled guilty to 2nd-degree vehicular homicide and spent five years (of a 5.5 yr sentence) in prison. In exchange for pleading guilty, charges of possession of marijuana and paraphernalia were dropped.

When asked for comments on the crash, Smith had this to say:

“When I awoke that morning, I had no idea there was alcohol in my system. Being a 20 year old kid, no one explained to me those dangers. It was always ‘don’t drink and drive’ and we didn’t drink and drive and I made a point not to. That doesn’t matter because the end result was the same.”

The notoriety and coverage that Ian Smith garnered during his lockdown protests only reminded Ade’s family of his tragic and avoidable death. In May of 2020, Ade’s cousin Jimmy Connelly took to social media to condemn two Go Fund Me accounts set up to help Smith pay his more than $1M in fines. Connelly goes into a graphic account of his cousin Kevin’s final moments, pleading with the public to not donate. Connelly wrote this on Facebook:

“LET THIS A****** GYM CLOSE – FOR GOOD. His rich daddy made sure he got the lightest sentence after killing my cousin and then running into the nearest house to hide narcotic paraphernalia.”

With his past – and apparently, present – repetitive disregard for laws, rules, and mandates, those speaking out against Smith’s run for office may have less concern with a vendetta, and everything to do with accountability and respectability. Or the lack thereof.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

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Vinnie Longobardo

is the Managing Editor of Washington Press and a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.