Right-wing operatives heading to trial in Michigan over voter intimidation robocalls

Jack Burkman, Jacob Wohl face felony charges for orchestrating robocalls with misinformation about mail-in voting

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 27: Police officers surround Jacob Wohl as he taunts protesters during a "Trump/Pence Out Now" rally at Black Lives Matter plaza August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Protesters gathered as the Republican National Convention on its final night was set to nominate President Donald Trump for a second term in office. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) (Michael M Santiago/GettyImages, 2020 Getty Images)

Two right-wing operatives accused of orchestrating robocalls designed to suppress voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election are heading to trial in Michigan over several felony charges.

Last October, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed several felony charges against Jack Burkman, 54, from Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 23, from Los Angeles, for allegedly attempting to suppress votes in multiple U.S. cities -- specifically those with significant minority populations -- in the U.S. presidential election.

According to officials, an investigation revealed that robocalls riddled with misinformation about mail-in voting were reported in Detroit and a number of other cities across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. For Detroit, the calls specifically targeted residents with a 313 area code -- nearly 12,000 of them -- in August of 2020. Officials believe about 85,000 of the robocalls were made nationally.

The recorded message allegedly organized by Burkman and Wohl falsely claimed that people who vote by mail would have their personal information shared in a public database used by police departments to track down old warrants, as well as by credit card companies seeking to collect outstanding debt. The call also falsely claimed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would use that personal information to track people down for mandatory vaccines.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the robocall.

After Burkman and Wohl were arraigned in Michigan last October, the men reportedly filed a motion to have the case dismissed, which a circuit court judge denied in February. The pair appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals in March and were denied again, meaning their case will be going to trial.

Burkman and Wohl have both been charged with the following offenses:

  • One count of election law – intimidating voters, a five-year felony;
  • One count of conspiracy to commit an election law violation, a five-year felony;
  • One count of using a computer to commit the crime of election law – intimidating voters, a seven-year felony; and
  • Using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy, a seven-year felony.

“I applaud the Court of Appeals decision and my office stands ready to proceed with this case,” Nessel said Friday. “We remain committed to defending democracy against misinformation spread in an attempt to undermine our free and fair elections.”

In New York, state Attorney General Letitia James wants Burkman and Wohl to pay up to $2.7 million in penalties for the robocalls.

James argues that the men “used misinformation to try to disenfranchise Black communities ahead of the election, in a clear attempt to sway the election in the favor of their preferred presidential candidate,” NBC News reports.

“On August 25, 2020, the day before the robocalls were placed, Wohl emailed Burkman the audio file for the call and stated, ‘[w]e should send it to black neighborhoods…’ The next day, after the calls were sent and received by thousands of voters, Burkman emailed to congratulate Wohl, stating that “i love these robo calls…getting angry black call backs…win or lose…the black robo was a great jw [Jacob Wohl] idea.”

The office of AG James, as reported by NBC News

Last year, Burkman and Wohl were ordered by a U.S. district court judge in New York to send “curative” robocalls to all individuals who were previously targeted by the alleged voter-intimidation scheme.

In his opinion last fall, Hon. Victor Marrero wrote: “Defendants intentionally reached into the homes of voters and raised the specter of arrest, financial distress, infirmity, and compulsory medical procedures. Not only did Defendants incite fears of these grim consequences, but they baselessly tied the prospects to mail-in voting. The result cannot be described as anything but deliberate interference with voters’ rights to cast their ballots in any legal manner they choose.”

Burkman and Wohl are also facing criminal charges in Ohio and civil charges in New York. The date for their Michigan trial has not yet been scheduled.

Wohl’s legal representation says the case will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.