NY AG takes legal action against conspiracists’ robocalls to suppress Black voters

"Any attempt to discourage communities from voting is as illegal as it is un-American," said Attorney General Letitia James.

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New York Attorney General Letitia James has moved to take legal action against two notorious conspiracists who used threatening robocalls to target and suppress Black voters.

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According to a press release provided to theGrio, approximately 5,500 New Yorkers were subjected to discriminatory and harassing robocalls ahead of the 2020 election. James filed a request to intervene in a federal court proceeding against two conspiracy theorists over their voter suppression efforts.

An investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General found that Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman hid behind a sham organization, “Project 1599,” and violated state and federal laws by orchestrating robocalls to threaten and harass Black communities.

These calls shared messages of disinformation, including claims that mail-in voters would have their personal information disseminated to law enforcement, debt collectors, and the government. The illegal calls reached approximately 5,500 New Yorkers in an attempt to undermine and interfere with the 2020 election.

Letitia James thegrio.com
State Attorney General Letitia James announces a lawsuit against e-cigarette giant Juul on November 19, 2019 in New York City. James said that the suit against Juul, the nation’s most popular e-cigarette brand, is for allegedly engaging in deceptive marketing and sales tactics that were primarily aimed at youth. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“In this country, our vote is our voice –– it is one of the most important parts of our democracy. Any attempt to discourage communities from voting is as illegal as it is un-American,” said Attorney General James. “Wohl and Burkman used misinformation to try to disenfranchise Black communities ahead of the election, in a clear attempt to sway the election in the favor of their preferred presidential candidate.

“No voter should ever be subjected to such harassment or intimidation when exercising their fundamental right to vote. I will continue the work to protect voters and ensure that anyone who tries to hinder that right is held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Her action asserts six violations by the defendants under state and federal laws, including the New York Civil Rights Law, the New York Executive Law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. There is also a separate, ongoing criminal case against Wohl and Burkman for the robocall operation by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

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According to the release, the OAG launched an investigation into Wohl and Burkman after public tips claimed they received automated messages discouraging voting by mail. The inquiry uncovered a robocall message recorded by the accused that said citizens who vote by mail would be subject to having their personal information used by the police to track old warrants, credit card companies to collect debts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track individuals for mandatory vaccines. All of which was false information.

A text of the automated recording stated the following:

“Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burman and Jacob Wohl. Mail-in voting sounds great, but did you know that if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts? The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay home safe and beware of vote by mail.”

Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl (Photo: Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

The investigation also revealed that Black voters were the target of the criminal campaign. The memo shared on August 25, 2020, the day before the robocalls were placed, Wohl emailed Burkman the audio file for the call and stated, “[w]e should send it to black neighborhoods…”

The next day, after the calls were sent and received by thousands of voters, Burkman emailed to congratulate Wohl, stating that “I love these robocalls…getting angry black call backs…win or lose…the black robo was a great [Jacob Wohl] idea.”

The two men hired Message Communications, Inc., which is owned and operated by Robert Mahanian, to send the robocall message to voters in New York and across the country. On the day after the email correspondence between Burkman and Wohl to target Black people, the robocall was sent to over 85,000 phone numbers nationwide.

The complaint seeks broad injunctive and other relief, including prohibiting Wohl, Burkman, Burkman & Associates, and Project 1599 from further engaging or undertaking in harassing and discriminatory voter intimidation.

They’re also asking Mahanian and Message Communications to establish policies and procedures to prevent unlawful, discriminatory, and intimidating robocalls directed at voters, forfeiting all profits or payments made to the defendants as part of the robocall campaign. The complaint concludes by asking defendants to pay a penalty of up to $500 for each violation of the state law.

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