Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl | DM photo via Flickr Public Domain
Updated, 7:56 p.m. 8/24/21, with comments from AG Nessel
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday proposed a $5.13 million fine against Jack Burkman, Jacob Wohl and J.M. Burkman & Associates LLC over a robocall targeting Black Michigan voters before the 2020 election.
Burkman and Wohl allegedly concocted and paid for a robocall that targeted and tried to dissuade Detroit’s Black residents from participating in the Nov. 3 general election, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who has filed multiple felony charges against the pair. Burkman and Wohl are awaiting trial in Wayne County Circuit Court.
“This massive fine properly reflects the seriousness of the allegations these two political operatives face. Mr. Burkman and Mr. Wohl allegedly orchestrated a series of robocalls aimed at suppressing the vote in the November general election. While my office will continue to pursue the criminal case against these men, I applaud the FCC for its action today,” Nessel said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Wohl and Burkman allegedly made 1,141 unlawful robocalls to wireless phones without prior express consent in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This is the largest TCPA robocall fine ever proposed by the FCC.
The robocalls were made on Aug. 26 and Sept. 14, 2020.
The calls received by Detroiters claimed personal information of residents who vote by mail will become part of an unspecified “public database,” as the Advance previously reported. They falsely claimed this would allow law enforcement officials to track down old warrants and credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.
They also claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will use personal information to track people for mandatory vaccines — an unfounded notion that has picked up steam in COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory circles. The calls ended by telling voters to “beware” of voting by mail.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigation found that the calls in this case were apparently prerecorded and made to consumers’ wireless phones without the required prior consent. Subject to narrow exceptions, the TCPA prohibits making prerecorded voice calls to wireless phones without the consent of those receiving the calls – regardless of the content of the calls.
The Enforcement Bureau worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to identify two dialing service providers that provided subpoena responses confirming the robocall campaigns and identifying the clients who had hired them for this service. The bureau used the subpoenaed call records and recordings of the calls to determine that the calls apparently went to wireless phones and the message was prerecorded. The consumers who agreed to speak with the bureau about the calls confirmed they had not provided prior consent to the callers.
The subpoenas also produced email exchanges between the dialing service vendors and Wohl and Burkman about the call campaigns – including choosing which ZIP codes to target and “the tape we want to go out.”
The calls themselves identified Wohl and Burkman by name and used Burkman’s wireless phone number as the caller ID. Wohl and Burkman also both admitted under oath to their involvement in the creation and distribution of the robocalls. Burkman stated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, “That is our call, yes, yes” with confirmation from Wohl.
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