Judge orders men who made fake robocalls to register voters

Jacob Wohl, Jack Burkman

FILE – In this. Oct. 8, 2020 image from video provided by the 36th District Court in Detroit, Jacob Wohl, left, and Jack Burkman, shown in the center left photo, are seen during an arraignment being conducted over Zoom in Detroit. The two right-wing operatives pleaded guilty on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Cleveland to single felony counts of telecommunications fraud for having placed thousands of false robocalls in Ohio that told people they could be arrested or be forced to receive vaccinations based on information they submitted in votes by mail. (36th District Court/Zoom via AP, File)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Two men convicted of fraud for targeting Black voters with phony robocalls before the 2020 election must spend 500 hours registering voters in low-income neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., an Ohio judge has ruled.

Jacob Wohl, 24, of Irvine, California, and Jack Burkman, 56, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty last month to a single felony count of telecommunications fraud each in the calls that told people they could be arrested or forced to receive vaccinations based on information they submitted in votes by mail.

Cleveland.com reports that Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula also fined each $2,500 and placed them on two years’ probation. He ordered them to spend six months of that period on home confinement beginning at 8 p.m. each day.

“I think it’s a despicable thing that you guys have done,” Sutula said, comparing their actions to violence used to suppress Black voters in the South in the 1960s.

The two were indicted in October 2020 on numerous counts of telecommunications fraud and bribery, accused of arranging for a voice broadcast service to make about 85,000 robocalls to predominantly Black neighborhoods in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois during the runup to the 2020 general election.

Prosecutors said the pair was responsible for 3,500 calls to residents of Cleveland and East Cleveland.

Wohl told the court he wanted “to express my absolute regret and shame over all of this.” Burkman said he wanted to “echo” that sentiment.

Prosecutor Michael O’Malley called the sentence appropriate, saying the defendants “attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy.”

The men have been sued in federal court in New York City and face a $5.1 million fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission. Wohl and Burkman are appealing criminal charges filed against them in Detroit stemming from a similar bogus robocall scheme targeting Black voters.

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