Activists Behind 'Despicable' Robocalls Hear Their Fate

Jack Burkman, Jacob Wohl tried to suppress Black votes in 2020
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2022 11:23 AM CST

After a 2020 robocalling scheme that tried to dissuade tens of thousands of voters in multiple Midwestern states from casting their ballots by mail in that year's election, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl were hit with a $5 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission; in October, the far-right operatives pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio. Now, a sentence from a judge out of that state's Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court has been handed down. The New York Times reports that, in addition to two years of probation, a $2,500 fine, and GPS monitoring, Judge John Sutula on Tuesday also mandated that the two men spend 500 hours each registering voters in the nation's capital.

Prosecutors accused Burkman, 56, and Wohl, 24, of targeting largely Black Ohio communities in the summer before the 2020 election. In some 67,000 calls made to Midwesterners, a recorded message warned, "Don't be finessed into giving your private information to the man. ... Beware of vote by mail." That's per court documents filed in the state of Michigan, where a similar case against the two is pending. The recording claimed that voter data would be entered into a database that could then be accessed by debt collectors, cops, and the CDC, which might then try to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates, per NPR. Burkman and Wohl also disseminated the recording in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

"I think it's a despicable thing that you guys have done," Sutula told the pair, who attended Tuesday's sentencing hearing via Zoom, per The 71-year-old judge compared the men's actions to the violence used to suppress the Black vote in the South in the 1960s. Burkman and Wohl had originally faced up to 18 years in prison on bribery and telecommunications fraud charges, but a plea deal whittled that down to one count of telecommunications fraud each. The two have made headlines before, including by staging a phony FBI raid that tricked the Washington Post. A lawyer for Wohl tells the Times that Sutula's sentence is "fair" and that his client is "genuinely remorseful." There've been no comments from Burkman or his legal team. (More voter suppression stories.)

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