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The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Holed up: Gym owner accused of violating consumer laws arrested after police spent two hours trying to get him to come out.
A man accused of operating an unregistered health club in Newton appeared in court Thursday after state and local police spent nearly two hours trying to get him to surrender while he was holed up inside the gym.
CrossFit Affirmation owner Thomas Lavigne was arraigned in Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood on a misdemeanor charge alleging that he continued to operate the gym at 4A Puzzle Lane, Unit 3, despite a court order issued on July 31 prohibiting him from running the business until it was registered with the Attorney General's office.
The order also barred Lavigne from accepting any membership fees from customers until the gym was properly registered and imposed $40,000 in fines for violations of the Consumer Protection Act, $5,000 for failing to comply with a subpoena from the Attorney General's office, and $3,701 as reimbursement to the state for its investigation.
The Attorney General's office began investigating in April after receiving a call from someone asking if the gym was registered. Lavigne failed to show up for his arraignment on the criminal charge Monday, prompting a warrant for his arrest that was executed by police Wednesday while he was at the gym.
According to Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti, chief of the state's Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau, Newton police and state police showed up at the gym just after 4 p.m. Wednesday to arrest him before members were scheduled to arrive for classes.
Boffetti said Lavigne ran back inside the building when a state trooper spotted him coming out a back door and ordered him to stop.
Police used sirens to try to get him to come out, Boffetti said, but officers never entered the building. Lavigne came out on his own about two hours later, but resisted arrest and refused to cooperate during the booking process, he said.
Some gym members arrived while police were at the facility. Boffetti said one member expressed concern because Lavigne has his credit card number.
Lavigne, who decided to represent himself at Thursday's arraignment, refused to answer some questions from Judge N. William Delker or gave answers that made little sense.
When Delker referred to him by his last name, Lavigne responded, "I am a living man known as Tom."
Lavigne later told the court, "I do not consent to being detained or touched."
Delker ordered him removed from the court at one point, but he returned a short time later and the arraignment continued.
Lavigne, who said he doesn't currently have a permanent residence, was released from jail on $5,000 personal recognizance bail with several conditions.
The court order issued in July found Lavigne violated the Consumer Protection Act by failing to register as a health club; soliciting memberships for terms of more than a year, which isn't allowed; failing to disclose membership liability for purposes of bonding to protect prepaid membership dues; and failing to provide members with contracts with consumer protection disclosures and buyer's rights that are required by law.
According to Boffetti, Lavigne's gym website at one point advertised lifetime/platinum memberships of between $5,000 and $7,500 each. By law, health club term contracts are limited to a year or less and aren't allowed to contain an automatic renewal clause for a period of more than a month.
In court Thursday, Lavigne said any money from lifetime memberships was collected in Massachusetts before the business opened and that it was all spent on equipment.
Lavigne began an online fundraising campaign to open a new gym on the website GoFundMe in March 2017.
In the description of the fundraiser, he identified himself and wrote that he was director of "CrossFit Cedardale" in Haverhill, Mass., until Cedardale Health and Fitness was damaged in a fire and he lost his job.
"In additon (sic) to that due to my citizenship as a Free American National I am unable to recieve (sic) unemployment benefits. With that said I am doing everything in my power to find opportunities that will allow me to not only be self sufficient but to thrive in the coming months and years," he wrote, in part.
Lavigne explained that the fund, which raised $1,687, would help him pay his bills while searching for space for a new gym and that anything left over would be used for new equipment in the gym.
It's not clear whether Lavigne will have to refund any membership fees. Boffetti said he doesn't know how many members use the gym and exactly how much they paid.
Boffetti asked any members who may be concerned about refunds to call his office at 271-0302.
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