Local prosecutors charged Wohl and Burkman each with eight counts of felony telecommunications fraud and seven counts of felony bribery for allegedly sowing false fears about voting by mail in targeted minority communities in Ohio, plus multiple other states. Warrants were issued for the pair's arrest, who face up to 18 years and six months in prison if convicted.
(Ohio defines "bribery" in this instance as "attempt by intimidation, coercion or other unlawful means to induce such delegate or elector to register or refrain from registering or to vote or refrain from voting at a primary, convention or election for a particular person, question or issue.")
The duo, representing themselves, testified one day earlier before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation in relation to the same alleged scheme. The suit alleges that Wohl and Burkman violated the Ku Klux Klan Act with the calls. (Wohl and Burkman are both Jewish.)
Recordings featuring a woman's voice falsely told recipients that mail-in ballots could be used to "collect outstanding debt," "track down old warrants" and "track people for mandatory vaccines." The recording cited in the lawsuit said the calls were made on behalf of Project 1599, Burkman's group.
"Stay safe," the calls concluded, "and beware of vote by mail."
Burkman, who in August denied involvement, appeared to confess to placing the calls during the New York hearing. When the judge asked whether he had been "acting alone or with anyone else prepared that message and caused it to be sent," Burkman replied in the affirmative.
"Oh, yes, your honor. Yes," he said, adding: "Yes. Yes. Yes."
And indeed, Wohl and Burkman were reported to have conspired with a notorious election trickster just this year: leaking grand jury information in the trial of longtime Trump associate GOP operative Roger Stone, whom President Donald Trump pardoned in July.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors allege that 8,100 calls were placed to phone numbers located in Cleveland and East Cleveland, more than 3,400 of which were answered by a live person or voicemail.
"The right to vote is the most fundamental component of our nation's democracy," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a statement. "These individuals clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election. These actions will not be tolerated. Anyone who interferes with others' right to vote must be held accountable."
In a statement announcing the charges in Michigan — where the pair went free after pleading not guilty and posting $100,000 bail — state Attorney General Dana Nessel described similar robocalls targeting areas with "significant minority populations" in the state. Nessel had indicated that investigations were ongoing in Ohio and New York, as well as in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Wohl and Burkman achieved internet infamy through a series of hapless attempts to tag their political enemies with absurd allegations of sexual impropriety, in which they coerced, paid or otherwise convinced real people to make the false accusations. An ill-devised but elaborate plot against former special counsel Robert Mueller collapsed in spectacular fashion, possibly leading the FBI to open an investigation into a fake intelligence company Wohl created for the purpose.
Shortly after his Monday testimony before the SDNY, Wohl had to attend a hearing in California Superior court, where he was charged last year for felony securities fraud. The hearing was subsequently pushed to mid-November, according to court records.
Salon reported in May that the attorney general of Arizona was coordinating with California officials in pursuit of tens of thousands of dollars in fines and court fees assessed to Wohl in a separate securities fraud case.
Wohl and Burkman did not immediately respond to Salon's requests for comment.
Listen to a recording of the robocall here.