Two right-wing operatives behind racist political robocalls that sought to intimidate Black voters in the 2020 presidential election will have to spend 500 hours registering low and middle-income Americans to vote, an Ohio judge ruled Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud last month after Ohio prosecutors accused them of operating a voter suppression campaign that made about 85,000 robocalls across five states. Recipients were told, “Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man.”
The calls warned recipients voting by mail would disburse their information to debt collectors and police would be able to track them for outstanding warrants and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be able to track for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.
Burkman and Wohl have until June 2024 to complete the 500 hours in the area of Washington D.C.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula also ordered the men to pay $2,500 fines and serve two years probation, wearing GPS ankle monitors with home confinement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the first six months.
Sutula, 71, said Burkman and Wohl’s actions were like those in the South who used violence to suppress Black voters in the 1960s, according to Cleveland.com.
“I think it’s a despicable thing that you guys have done,” he said.
The robocalls were reportedly voiced by a woman who identified herself as Tamika Taylor from a civil rights organization called The 1599 Project. Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez pointed to the court that Breonna Taylor’s mother’s first name is also Tamika.
Breonna Taylor was fatally shot during a police raid in Louisville, Kentucky in March 2020. Her death spurred national protests and international outrage.
Gutierrez said more than 6,400 robocalls were made to voters in predominately Black neighborhoods in Cleveland and east of the city. More than half of those voters were contacted, he said. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation spoke to a dozen people who received the calls and were willing to testify if the case had gone to trial, the prosecutor said.
New York and Michigan attorneys general have also filed charges against the pair, notorious for holding press conferences accusing Democrats and Republicans, who opposed former President Donald Trump, of sexual misconduct.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said the calls targeted 5,500 New Yorkers. James, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and a group of voters, have filed a civil lawsuit against the two men for “unlawful infringement of voting rights.”
The Federal Communications Commission has also demanded a historic $5 million fine from Burkman and Wohl.
“These two individuals attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy. Their sentence of two years’ probation and 500 hours of community work service at a voter registration drive is appropriate,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
Mark Wieczorek, Wohl’s attorney, told CNN his client is “generally remorseful.”
“We’re pleased with the outcome, and we think it’s fair given the amount of charges they were indicted with,” Wieczorek said.
Wohl said in court Tuesday he really wanted “to express my absolute regret and shame over all of this.”
Burkman said he echoed the sentiment.
“I think the same,” he said.