Republican operatives to pay $1.25 million for robocalls threatening Black voters, NY prosecutor says

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Two conservative operatives who launched a robocall campaign designed to prevent Black New Yorkers from voting by mail in the 2020 U.S. election will pay $1.25 million in a settlement, New York state Attorney General Letitia James said on Tuesday.

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were found liable by a federal judge in New York in March 2023 for targeting Black voters and sending false and threatening messages intended to discourage voting.

“Wohl and Burkman orchestrated a depraved and disinformation-ridden campaign to intimidate Black voters in an attempt to sway the election in favor of their preferred candidate,” James said in a statement.

During the summer of 2020, the automated calls claimed that mail-in voting would allow the voter to be tracked for outstanding warrants, credit card debt and mandatory vaccines, James said.

The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was forced to redirect considerable resources to address the false claims made in the call, James said.

During the 2020 presidential campaign that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden, Republican President Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly made false claims that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. Trump, who is challenging Biden in the Nov. 5 presidential election, has continued to repeat the claims.

The 2020 robocall also was distributed in Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; Detroit; and Arlington, Virginia, according to filing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

A New York lawyer for Burkman and Wohl, David Schwartz, said his clients were pleased to have a settlement and put this case behind them so they can focus on their families and careers.

Burkman, a Washington lawyer and Republican operative, was stripped of his law license in March by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

He and Wohl pleaded guilty in October 2022 to telecommunications fraud in Ohio after using robocalls to intimidate people from voting by mail during the 2020 presidential election. They were sentenced to two years of probation, each fined $2,500 and ordered to do 500 hours of community service.

In June 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Burkman and Wohl $5.1 million for making more than 1,100 unlawful robocalls in August and September 2020.

Burkman is perhaps best known for keeping the 2016 killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich in Washington in the news. Rich’s murder became fodder for a conspiracy theory in conservative media, though Washington police have said the slaying was part of a robbery gone wrong.

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