By MARK GILLISPIE
CLEVELAND (AP) — Two right-wing operatives pleaded guilty on Monday in Cleveland to single felony counts of telecommunications fraud for having placed thousands of false robocalls in Ohio that told people they could be arrested or be forced to receive vaccinations based on information they submitted in votes by mail.
Jacob Wohl, 24, of Irvine, California, and Jack Burkman, 56, of Arlington, Virginia, could each receive a year in prison when they are sentenced Nov. 29 in common pleas court. They were indicted in October 2020 on numerous counts of telecommunications fraud and bribery.
Wohl’s attorney, Mark Wieczorek, declined to comment about the his client’s plea. Burkman’s attorney, Brian Joslyn, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
The two men were accused of arranging for a voice broadcast service to make about 85,000 robocalls to predominantly Black neighborhoods in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois during the runup to the 2020 general election. Prosecutors said the pair were responsible for 3,500 calls to residents of Cleveland and East Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley at the time the pair were charged said they “clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose consumer protection unit assisted in the investigation, issued a statement Monday saying “voter intimidation won’t be tolerated in Ohio.”
The calls warned people that information included in their mailed ballots could be used by law enforcement agencies to enforce arrest warrants, to collect outstanding debts, and lead to tracking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mandatory vaccines.
Wohl and Burkman have a history of staging hoaxes and spreading false smears against Democrats and public officials.
The Associated Press reported in May 2019 that a 21-year-old college student from Michigan said the men recruited him to falsely claim he was raped by then-Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and published the smear without the student’s permission.
Wohl denied the accusation, saying the student had reached out to him. Burkman said on Twitter that he believed the student’s initial account of the alleged assault was “accurate and true.”
The men have been sued in federal court in New York City and face a $5.1 million fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission. Wohl and Burkman are appealing criminal charges filed against them in Detroit stemming from a similar bogus robocall scheme targeting Black voters.