Conservative activists accused of voter intimidation appear in Detroit courtroom

Posted at 9:50 AM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 18:03:24-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Two conservative activists and conspiracy theorists appeared in a Detroit courtroom Thursday.

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are facing voter intimidation charges.

Attorney General Dana Nessel says the men orchestrated robocalls to thousands of Detroiters with false messages made to deter residents from voting by mail.

The Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson tweeted an example of the robocall that went out to 12,000 Detroiters, that said in part:

“Your personal information would be used in a public database that would be viewed by police departments to track down old warrants. Can be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debt.”

Nessel's office says the robocall is a form of voter intimidation.

In court, Richard Cunningham of the Criminal Division of Michigan Attorney General’s Office said the messages are an “unlawfully, unfairly, attempt to deter people from voting.”

Wohl and Burkman have been called right-wing operatives with "Project 1599." State officials say the group is behind the calls.

The AG’s office asked the judge to issue a $1 million bond for each man after accusing them of making a mockery of the government system.

“They had a film crew to be filming them pulling out a stack of $100 bills with the expectation that they will pay the money and walk out the door," Cunningham said.

Burkman’s lawyer, Scott Grabel, fought back, calling it a political stunt by Nessel.

“Is your attorney general going to go on Rachel Maddow again for her political points?” Grabel said.

The defendants’ attorneys argued that the robocall’s message was not a crime.

“The chance of conviction here, in my opinion, is zero. Absolutely zero. It’s involving a robocall, which is protected speech,” Grabel added.

In addition to the message saying voters' information would be used track down those with outstanding warrants, the message said the CDC would use the information forcing mandatory vaccines.

At the arraignment, the judge said the men cannot make anymore robocalls until after the election and set the bond at $100,000 cash or surety for each defendant.

Both men will be back in court October 15 for a probable cause hearing. If convicted, the men could face up to 12 years in prison.

Burkman, a 54-year-old Arlington, Virginia resident, and Wohl, a 22-year-old Los Angeles resident, are each charged with:

  • One count of election law – intimidating voters, a five-year felony;
  • One count of conspiracy to commit an election law violation, a five-year felony;
  • One count of using a computer to commit the crime of election law – intimidating voters, a seven-year felony; and
  • Using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy, a seven-year felony.

It’s believed around 85,000 robocalls were made nationally, though an exact breakdown of the numbers of calls made to each city or state is not available.