Two men accused of using robocall scam to deter Black residents from voting by mail

Francis Akhalbey Oct 30, 2020 at 08:00am

October 30, 2020 at 08:00 am | News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

October 30, 2020 at 08:00 am | News

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are accused of making robocalls to around 12,000 people -- Photo Credit: AP

U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero has ordered two White right-wing men to call back several people they got in touch with in Detroit and other cities to admit the earlier messages they sent to them about mail-in ballots were false and illegal. The two men, Jacob Wohl, 22, and Jack Burkman, 54, were rounded up in a voter intimidation scam targeted at Black voters.

According to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Wohl and Burkman contacted about 12,000 Black residents through robocalls in August spreading misleading information about mail-in ballots in an attempt to deter them from voting, Metro Times reports.

The robocalls reportedly told their targets their background information would be used to search for old warrants and also by credit card companies to track down debtors if they voted by mail. The calls also alleged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would use their details to track them for mandatory vaccines.

A full transcript of the robocall reads: “Mail-in voting sounds great, but did you know that if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts? The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay safe and beware of vote by mail.”

The accused men were charged with intimidating voters, conspiracy to commit an election law violation, and using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy and election law during an arraignment on October 8.

Marrero ordered Wohl and Burkman, who have been released on a $100,000 bond, to call back all their targets by the evening of Thursday, October 29, or be charged with contempt of court. He has also barred the accused men from making further robocalls or distributing text messages to intimidate voters, according to Metro Times.

“The means Defendants use to intimidate voters, though born of fear and similarly powered by hate, are not guns, torches, burning crosses, and other dire methods perpetrated under the cover of white hoods,” Marrero stated in the order. “Rather, Defendants carry out electoral terror using telephones, computers, and modern technology adapted to serve the same deleterious ends.”

In effect, Marrero ordered the accused men to “to issue a message to all recipients of the robocalls informing them about this Court’s finding that Defendants’ original message contained false statements that have had the effect of intimidating voters, and thus interfering with the upcoming presidential election, in violation of federal voting-rights laws.”

Marrero ordered them to retract their earlier claims with this message upon calling their victims:

“At the direction of a United States district court, this call is intended to inform you that a federal court has found that the message you previously received regarding mail-in voting from Project 1599, a political organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, contained false information that has had the effect of intimidating voters, and thus interfering with the upcoming presidential election, in violation of federal voting-rights laws.”

Though the attorney for Burkman, Scott Grabel, labeled the charges as a “political stunt” and argued the robocalls were “protected speech” during court proceedings, Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham countered, saying the calls were made in an attempt to influence “the outcome of the election,” Metro Times reports.

The two men have also been accused of making similar calls in Cleveland and East Cleveland and were charged in an Ohio court on Tuesday.

“Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy and all voters should be able to cast their ballot without confusion or fear,” Nessel said after Marrero’s order.

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