After sending thousands of admittedly fraudulent robocalls to largely Black communities in Cleveland, Ohio, right-wing operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman have been dealt a sentence forcing them to expand the vote rather than suppress it.
An Ohio judge ordered them to spend 500 hours registering voters living in low-income neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area.
“These two individuals attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley said in a statement. “Their sentence of two years of probation and 500 hours of community work service at a voter registration drive is appropriate.”
His office told Law&Crime that Wohl and Burkman also must pay a $2,500 fine and wear an ankle monitor with home confinement beginning each day at 8 p.m. for the first six months of their probation. They also got a dressing down from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula.
“I think it’s a despicable thing that you guys have done,” Sutula told the pair, according to Cleveland.com.
Long before the 2020 election, the duo hatched failed schemes to discredit perceived adversaries of former President Donald Trump. They peddled phony rape claims against former special counsel Robert Mueller, only to have the accuser admit the allegations were false. A similar plot targeting now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg crumbled after the college student recruited for the smear said he was tricked into a “despicable” hoax.
Facing the sentencing judge, the brash duo apparently dropped their pose of defiance. Wohl expressed his “absolute regret and shame,” while Burkman simply echoed his co-defendant’s sentiment, according to the local news outlet.
For Wohl and Burkman, the antics crossed the line into criminal and possible civil liability months before the 2020 election, when they sent out robocalls — mostly to Black communities in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The woman in one of the calls, identifying herself as “Tamika Taylor,” disseminated bogus information about mail-in voting.
“Mail-in voting sounds great,” the woman said. “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 debt? The CDC is even pushing to give preference for mail in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines.”
Prosecutors in Ohio and Michigan charged both men criminally, and they were also sued in federal court in Manhattan under the Ku Klux Klan Act.
In October, Wohl and Burkman pleaded guilty to a felony count of telecommunications fraud, a charge that carried a maximum possible term of one year behind bars. First time offenders rarely receive a maximum penalty, but the duo has not entirely escaped possible jail time. The Michigan case remains pending.
Nor have Wohl and Burkman avoided other non-criminal punishment.
In the civil lawsuit against them, a federal judge in Manhattan denounced what he described as Wohl and Burkman’s “electoral terror” before ordering the men to notify the recipients of their calls that the messages were false and illegal. Finding the claims under the KKK Act plausibly alleged, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero compared the robocalls to the voter suppression by racist groups that the legislation sought to eradicate.
“In the current version of events, the means [Burkman and Wohl] 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 wrote in his ruling, filed days before Election Day 2020. “Rather, [Burkman and Wohl] carry out electoral terror using telephones, computers, and modern technology adapted to serve the same deleterious ends.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) later joined the lawsuit, seeking to impose a $2.75 million fine against them and two other co-defendants.
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