DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Thursday set bond at $100,000 for two conservative political activists who are accused of using false robocalls to dissuade Black residents in Detroit and other Democratic-leaning U.S. cities from voting by mail.
The magistrate entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of Jack Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles.
The men didn’t speak during a brief court hearing that was held by video conference. But their attorneys sparred with a state prosecutor over a request for $1 million cash bond.
“Is this a CSC 1?” asked Scott Grabel, the lawyer for Burkman, using shorthand for a sexual assault charge. “It involves a 20-second call that involved no threats. It did not deter any voting.”
Grabel said the charges were an “absolute atrocity” and a “publicity stunt” by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.
“The chance of conviction here, in my opinion, is zero, absolutely zero. It’s involving a robocall, which is protected speech,” Grabel said.
The calls falsely warned residents in majority-Black Detroit and cities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois that if they vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election they could be subjected to arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination, investigators said.
The charges against Burkman and Wohl include conspiring to intimidate voters and using a computer to commit crimes. An estimated 85,000 robocalls were made nationwide, according to the attorney general’s office.
Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham asked for a $1 million bond, saying it would protect the public from efforts to discourage voting, “one of the fundamental rights we have.”