Nessel files felony charges against two far-right conspiracy theorists over voter suppression robocalls

By: - October 2, 2020 6:46 am

Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday filed multiple felony charges against Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, a pair of far-right conspiracy theorists whom the attorney general says orchestrated robocalls that aimed to suppress voter participation in Detroit.

As the Advance previously reported, Burkman and Wohl allegedly concocted and paid for a robocall that targeted and tried to dissuade Detroit’s Black residents from participating in the upcoming Nov. 3 general election, according to Nessel. Calls circulated in late August and reached almost 12,000 residents with 313 area code phone numbers.

Burkman, 54, and Wohl, 22, each face the following charges, according to Nessel’s complaint.

  • 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.
  • Using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy, a seven-year felony.

“Any effort to interfere with, intimidate or intentionally mislead Michigan voters will be met with swift and severe consequences,” Nessel said. “This effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election.”

The charges were filed in the 36th District Court in Detroit. Magistrate Malaika Ramsey-Heath signed the charging document. 

Arraignment, or the formal reading of a criminal defendant’s charges to them, is pending, the attorney general’s office said. 

Burkman is a resident of Arlington, Va., and Wohl is a resident of Los Angeles.

“The Attorney General’s office will be working – with local law enforcement if necessary – to secure the appearance of each defendant in Michigan. It’s too early to say if formal extradition will be necessary or if they will present themselves here voluntarily in the very near future,” reads a news release from Nessel’s office.

Nessel’s office worked with attorneys general in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois on the investigation. Each state experienced robocalls, with about 85,000 calls made nationally, per the release. Special agents from Nessel’s office also had help from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his staff with the investigation.

Nessel and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson back in August announced an investigation into the robocall.

The woman speaking in the robocall claimed personal information of people who vote by mail will become part of an unspecified “public database.” The call falsely claimed that doing so would allow law enforcement officials to track down old warrants and credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.

It also claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would use personal information to track people for mandatory vaccines, a conspiracy theory that’s been peddled more aggressively since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The woman ends the call by telling voters to “beware” of voting by mail.

“I have zero tolerance for anyone who would seek to deceive citizens about their right to vote,” said Benson, who has encouraged voting by mail as safe and secure ahead of the Nov. 3 election. “I am grateful to the Attorney General for her swift and thorough investigation, putting anyone else who would seek to undermine citizens’ fundamental rights on notice that we will use every tool at our disposal to dispel false rhetoric and seek justice on behalf of every voter who is targeted and harmed by any attempt to suppress their vote.” 

Anyone who got the call “on or about Aug. 26” who wants to file a complaint can contact Nessel’s office at 517-335-7650. 

Callers might be asked for the following information:

  • Their name, address and contact information 
  • Date and time of when the robocall was received 
  • Phone number of the line where the call was received 
  • Number displayed on caller ID when the call was received 
  • Whether the robocall went to voicemail or was answered live
  • The complainant’s recollection of the robocall content and their thoughts about the call  
  • Whether the complainant is and has been a Michigan resident for six months or more 
  • Whether the complainant is a registered voter or is eligible to vote 

Burkman denied his involvement in the robocalls in an August interview with the Washington Post. 

“No one in their right mind would give out their [cell] number on a robo [call],” Burkman told the Post.

Wohl in February pleaded not guilty to felony charges of selling unregistered securities.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.