Right-wing pranksters ordered to spend 500 hours registering voters over hoax targeting Black voters
Jacob Wohl
Right-wing conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were ordered by a judge on Tuesday to spend 500 hours registering voters in low-income neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., after pleading guilty to telecommunications fraud.

Wohl and Burkman were behind the hoax robocalls seeking to intimidate Black voters out of casting mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The automated calls came during the height of the COVID pandemic, when mail-in voting was expanded throughout the country as a protective measure.

Both men were sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to wear GPS ankle monitors with home confinement for six months beginning at 8 pm every night. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula also placed a $2,500 fine on each of them, comparing their actions to the widespread Black voter suppression in the 1960s.

"I think it's a despicable thing that you guys have done," Sutula said during the Zoom hearing. County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley added in a statement that the men "attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy."

When given the opportunity to address their charges for the first time, Wohl and Burkman were brief.

"I just really want to express my absolute regret and shame over all of this," Wohl said.

"I would just echo Mr. Wohl's sentiment," Burkman said. "I think the same."

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez said Cleveland's heavily Black city of East Cleveland was targeted with more than 6,400 robocalls, and that more than 3,400 voters were ultimately contacted.

The calls warned that voters should not fill in mail-in ballots because the police, credit card companies, and the U.S. Centers for Disease for Control would use their personal information to find people with outstanding arrest warrants and credit card debt.

"Don't be finessed into giving your private information to the man," the call said.

Gutierrez confirmed that all these claims are false. "There is not one kernel of truth into what they said in that recording," he said.

The voice of the robocalls came from someone who called herself Tamika Taylor and claimed to work for a civil rights organization called The 1599 Project. Gutierrez said that Tamika is also the name of the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in her apartment on March 13, 2020, after Louisville police officers forced entry into her apartment while claiming to execute a drug raid.

Gutierrez pointed to data from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections that showed voter turnout decreased in 2020 as compared to 2016. The calls, he told Sutula, had a "chilling effect" on voters. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation found that 12 people who received calls were willing to testify had the case gone to trial.

He added that Wohl previously admitted to probation officers during his pre-sentencing investigation that the robocalls were "a political stunt meant for attention and profit."

After the hearing concluded, Gutierrez told reporters the robocalls were a form of voter intimidation and suppression.

"We've made convicted felons out of these two conspiracy theorists who did a political stunt that actually worked," Gutierrez said.

In recent years, Wohl and Burkman have also tried to harm Democrats and Republicans who are critical of former President Donald Trump by organizing press conferences to falsely accuse them of sexual misconduct.

They have been charged for the same robocalls in Michigan and are currently being sued by a civil rights organization in New York federal court.

Reporters asked Gutierrez after the hearing if he believed Wohl and Burkman's schemes were finished.

"In Cuyahoga County, yes," Gutierrez said. "As far as everything else goes, no. But that's just speculation."