Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman have turned themselves in to authorities for their alleged participation in a voter suppression scheme and were arraigned in their first court appearance on Thursday.
The tag-team of conservative trolls allegedly orchestrated a robocall that was aimed at voters in the metropolitan Detroit area and designed to dissuade people from voting, Nessel said. Her office says that nearly 12,000 calls were made in late August, and that similar robocalls tied to Burkman and Wohl were reported in other states including New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. It’s estimated that up to 85,000 calls were made.
Burkman, 54, and Wohl, 22, were each charged with four felony counts, including voter intimidation. If convicted, the pair face a maximum of 12 years in prison, due to Michigan sentencing statutes.
Richard Cunningham, the chief of the criminal division of the state attorney general’s office, requested a bond of $1 million, saying that Wohl and Burkman brought a film crew with them as they turned themselves in, and were flashing $100 bills “with the expectation they’ll pay the money and walk out the door.” Cunningham charged that they were making a “mockery” of the system.
Magistrate Joseph Boyer set bond at $100,000 each after Burkman and Wohl’s attorney, Scott Grabel, unsuccessfully argued to have it lowered. They’re also forbidden from doing robocalls until after the election.
Wohl and Burkman are due back in court October 15. Cunningham also said there were additional charges pending in other jurisdictions, which Grabel called a “bold-faced lie.”
But the calls in question are very clearly meant to persuade people with legal issues not to vote, and were targeted at voters in a predominantly Black area that’s long been crucial to Democratic turnout in Michigan.
In one of the robocalls obtained by WDIV, the call comes from a Northern Virginia area code, and the caller identifies themselves as part of a “civil rights organization” led by Wohl and Burkman.
"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 call says. This is not true.
“This effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election,” Nessel said in a statement when the two were charged earlier this month. Grabel argued Thursday that the calls were “protected speech” and said the chance of conviction was “zero,” and baselessly charged that Nessel was running for Congress.
“We’re all well aware of the frustrations caused by the millions of nuisance robocalls flooding our cell phones and landlines each day, but this particular message poses grave consequences for our democracy and the principles upon which it was built. Michigan voters are entitled to a full, free and fair election in November and my office will not hesitate to pursue those who jeopardize that.”
Burkman and Wohl have been involved in several of the dumbest hoaxes and most poorly thought-out schemes of the past few years. They’ve been caught faking death threats against themselves, fabricating sexual assault and misconduct allegations against nearly every prominent figure remotely considered to be an enemy of President Donald Trump, and inventing FBI raids.
Wohl and a former business partner were also charged with a felony in California last year after allegedly unlawfully selling a security. Those charges stem from a 2016 complaint made by an Arizona man who lost $75,000 he invested in Wohl Capital Investment Group and later killed himself; Wohl later allegedly sold a security to an undercover cop.
Wohl has pleaded not guilty; a settlement hearing in April was reportedly postponed due to the pandemic, according to Los Angeles Magazine.
Cover: NOV 1, 2018 : Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl speak to the media about alleged allegations against Robbert Mueller at the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn Va.(John Middlebrook/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)