Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed felony charges against two well-known out-of-state Republican operatives for allegedly orchestrating robocalls aimed at suppressing the vote in the Detroit area, her office said Thursday.
Nessel has charged Jack Burkman, 54, of Virginia and Jacob Wohl, 22, of California with election law and conspiracy crimes that would bring up to 24 years behind bars for each of them if convicted.
“Any effort to interfere with, intimidate or intentionally mislead Michigan voters will be met with swift and severe consequences,” Nessel said in a statement. “This effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election.”
Burkman and Wohl are each charged with intimidating voters, a five-year felony; conspiracy to commit an election law violation, a five-year felony; using a computer to commit an election law crime, a seven-year felony; and using a computer to commit a conspiracy crime, a seven-year felony.
The charges were filed Thursday in the 36th District Court in Detroit. They stem from a false robocall that discouraged mail-in voting by telling people their personal information will be part of a public database that will then be used by police if they vote by mail. A recording of the call said it was made on behalf of Project 1599, a project spearheaded by Wohl, a conservative social media personality, and Burkman, a conservative operative.
Wohl denied involvement when contacted by The Detroit News in August and said he and Burkman, while “not fans of mail-in voting,” were “puzzled” by the call.
“People pull pranks all the time,” Wohl said. “We figure it’s probably some internet prankster if we had to speculate, but, of course, it’s too soon to know for sure.”
Wohl and Burkman have repeatedly made outrageous and false accusations against Democratic candidates. Last year,a Michigan college student said they pushed him to make false sexual assault claims against then-Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg and then “spewed a bunch of hateful accusations” using his name.
Burkman and Wohl created and funded “a robocall targeted at certain urban areas, including Detroit,” Nessel’s office says. The calls were made in late August and went out to nearly 12,000 residents with phone numbers from the 313 area code, the office adds.
Nessel’s office found that authorities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois reported similar robocalls being made to residents in their states who live in urban areas with significant minority populations.
“It’s believed around 85,000 calls were made nationally, though an exact breakdown of the numbers of calls to each city or state are not available,” according to the Attorney General office’s press release.
Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed