Two right-wing political operatives at the center of a robocall scam in Detroit and other U.S. cities have been ordered to call their victims back with a corrective message.
Jack Burkman, 54, from Arlington, Virginia and Jacob Wohl, 22, from Los Angeles were ordered by a U.S. district court Wednesday to issue “curative” robocalls to individuals that were previously targeted by an alleged voter-intimidation scheme.
The two men have been accused of orchestrating robocalls to suppress votes in multiple U.S. cities -- specifically those with significant minority populations, like Detroit -- for the November election.
An investigation earlier this month revealed that the robocalls were reported in Detroit and a number of other cities across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. For Detroit, the calls specifically targeted residents -- nearly 12,000 -- with a 313 area code in August. Officials believe about 85,000 robocalls tied to the pair have been made nationally.
The recorded message falsely claimed that if people vote by mail, their personal information will be 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 voice recording also falsely claimed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will use personal information to track people down for mandatory vaccines.
Burkman and Wohl were arraigned in Michigan earlier this month. Both men were charged with the following:
- 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.
On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered Burkman and Wohl to issue a new robocall to correct the misinformation contained in the initial calls made in August. According to officials, the new robocall must be made by 5 p.m. Thursday and must contain the following message:
“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.”
In his opinion, 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.”
The case against Burkman and Wohl in Michigan is currently pending in the 36th District Court. Officials say their preliminary exam is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 29.
Anyone who has received a robocall on or around August 26 can file a complaint by calling Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office at 517-335-7650.
Officials are reminding the public that there is “very little, if any, evidence to substantiate claims that mail-in ballots lead to fraud, as many states have successfully conducted the process for years,” according to a press release from Nessel’s office earlier this month. Rhetoric surround mail-in voting, or absentee voting, has been confusing over the last several months -- but Michigan voters can be assured that the claims made in the robocalls are false, and that their information will not be made public.
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