A New Jersey comic in the middle of a highly controversial case is facing up to 10 years in prison on a weapons charge, even though the gun he was holding wasn't real.
Standup comedian Carlo Bellario makes a living cracking some pretty lame jokes.
"Last night I had to do a show for 900 Jehovah's witnesses," said Bellario. "Oh it was a nightmare -- all they wanted to hear were knock-knock jokes."
But what happened to Carlo Bellario on the streets of Woodbridge, New Jersey is no laughing matter. He could get a decade behind bars because of a one-day gig.
He's a part-time actor and was appearing in a low-budget independent film called "Vendetta Games," where he plays a gun-toting gangster.
"We would speed down the street to simulate a car chase, and I was in the passenger side, and I was going like this out the window," said Bellario.
And that simulated chase is what got him busted in a New Jersey minute.
"They call the police, we get back, and we're surrounded by cop cars," said Bellario.
Cops slap the handcuffs on Bellario, charging him with the unlawful possession of a weapon.
"The producer didn't have a permit to film, didn't have a permit for that gun, which turned out to be a BB gun, wasn't just a prop gun," said Bellario. "Now because of that I'm looking at five years because it's a second-degree crime -- five to 10 years, actually."
Police take Bellario to the tough Middlesex County Jail. He makes his obligatory one phone call to his girlfriend, Jusella Sboto.
"He calls my job and he says 'I'm under arrest,' and I'm like 'For what?'" said Sboto.
Sboto told our New York affiliate WPIX that she thought her comedian boyfriend was pulling her leg.
"He's like 'Uh, for gun possession,' I'm like 'OK, stop playin','" said Sboto. "He said 'Listen, I'm really not playin', you have to come here and bail me out.'"
Sboto couldn't pony up the coin for the bail, a whopping $10,000. So she called some of Bellario's friends, and one of them, she says, wanted some "favors."
"Like something that I would never do, you know, compromising myself for somebody," said Sboto. "His friends from like high school, that he's really good friends with."
So then Jusella Sboto calls the film's executive producer, Andre Joseph, asking for help.
"She calls Andre and he said 'Yeah, don't worry, I'll send somebody down to bail him out,' and when he found out the bail amount, that was it," said Bellario. "He says 'I ain't bailin' him out.'"
According to IMDB.com, the film's budget is estimated at $50,000 -- no accounting for bail money here.
WPIX Reporter Howard Thompson called the producer to get some answers. Thompson says Andre Joseph never returned his call.
Jusella Sboto eventually was able to raise enough to pay the bail fee.
"I owe money to the bail bondsman, I gotta see this guy every week, I can't leave the state, so now I'm losing money doing comedy gigs, I'm supposed to travel all around the country and I can't now, and it's embarrassing because now I can't afford an attorney," said Bellario. "The money I make goes to take care of my family and myself, and I had to put a GoFundMe account. I'm so embarrassed by this."
So far, Carlo Bellario's GoFundMe page has raised a little more than half of the $15,000 he says he needs to defend himself.
The judge begins a hearing in Bellario's case. The state offers Bellario a deal: Plead guilty to false public alarm and do three years. Bellario says no deal, "I'm not guilty."
Complicating matters, prosecutors say Carlo Bellario has six prior convictions, including theft, credit-card theft and Burglary.
"I always was out front about it, I didn't lie about it because it gives them nowhere to go, you know, I never claimed I was a Boy Scout," said Bellario. "At that time I was doing something constructive, I was shooting a movie, I had no knowledge of any illegalities going on."
And Carlo Bellario allegedly has ties to a crime family in New York City.
Unfortunately because of his association with the crime family, and because he has priors, the prosecution is taking a very hard look at him. Those earlier convictions could spell more trouble if Bellario is convicted. The court could tack additional time on his sentence, possibly more than 10 years.
"It's a big gamble here at this point, but he's prepared to take his case to a jury and he'll tell the jury that he did not know the gun was illegal," said Jef Henninger, Bellario's attorney.
If Bellario's gamble doesn't pay off, he could end up doing standup not in a comedy club -- but in the joint.