Two conservative operatives responsible for placing tens of thousands of calls in Midwestern states that made false claims about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots were sentenced by an Ohio judge to spend hundreds of hours registering new voters.
The operatives, Jack Burkman, 56, of Arlington, Va., and Jacob Wohl, 24, of Irvine, Calif., orchestrated a robocall scheme that targeted Black neighborhoods in Ohio in 2020, prosecutors said.
More than 8,000 of the roughly 67,000 phone calls the pair made across the Midwest, using a voice broadcasting service, were sent to phone numbers in Cleveland and East Cleveland, where many Black voters reside, prosecutors said. The calls were placed during the pandemic, ahead of the 2020 election, a time of heightened interest in absentee voting because of rising concerns about health and safety.
The calls falsely stated that voting by mail meant the personal information of people who cast those ballots would be added to a public database and that they would be tracked by the authorities.
“Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man,” the recorded message said, according to a court filing in Michigan, which said Mr. Burkman and Mr. Wohl specifically targeted “Black neighborhoods” in the Midwest, including Cleveland. “Stay safe and beware of vote by mail.”
The prerecorded messages claimed that mail-in voting would result in a cascade of negative consequences, including pursuit by the authorities for outstanding debts and warrants, and mandatory vaccines.
On Tuesday, Mr. Burkman and Mr. Wohl were sentenced in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Cleveland. At the hearing, which the defendants attended by videoconference, Judge John Sutula likened the robocall scheme to voter suppression efforts targeting Southern Black voters in the 1960s, Cleveland.com reported.
“I think it’s a despicable thing that you guys have done,” Judge Sutula remarked, according to Cleveland.com.
Mr. Wohl previously promoted false sexual assault allegations against Pete Buttigieg, then a Democratic Presidential candidate, and Robert S. Mueller, the former special counsel.
In the robocall case, Mr. Wohl and Mr. Burkman were each sentenced to completing two years of probation, working 500 hours at a voting registration center in Washington, D.C., and paying a $2,500 fine, a spokeswoman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office said. They will also be electronically monitored for 12 hours, starting at 8 p.m. each day, through the first six months of their probation period.
Michael C. O’Malley, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, called the sentence “appropriate.”
“These two individuals attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy,” Mr. O’Malley said in a statement.
The sentence arrived two years after they were indicted in Ohio for their voter intimidation scheme. They had initially faced up to 18 years in prison for multiple charges of bribery and telecommunications fraud but under a plea deal, the charges were merged into a single count each of telecommunications fraud, which they pleaded guilty to in October 2022.
Lawyers for Mr. Wohl and Mr. Burkman could not be reached for comment.
The pair also face similar charges in Michigan, where a case against them is still pending in the state’s Supreme Court, said John Nevin, a spokesman for the court. In 2020, they were charged with intimidating voters, conspiracy to intimidate voters, using a computer to intimidate voters and conspiracy to use a computer to intimidate voters, according to a criminal complaint.
A judge in New York previously ordered them to call 85,000 people back to inform them that their initial calls about voting by mail had included false information.