By Victoria Collison

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, through their business Burkman Associates, organized a targeted robocall campaign to spread false information to black voters during the 2020 presidential election.[1] Now, U.S. district Judge Victor Marrero held that the defendants committed fraud and violated several federal and state laws: the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) Act, the Civil Rights Act, and Sections 9 and 40-c of the NYCRL.[2]

New York is not the only state where these defendants’ faced charges. In October 2022, both defendants pled guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio.[3] The robocall reached voters in the following cities: Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Detroit, Michigan; New York, New York; and Arlington, Virginia.[4]

When describing the call, plaintiffs used words such as distressing, traumatizing, and intimidating.[5] The robocall placed unfounded fear on voters who relied on the mail-in ballots. The robocall shared the following message:

Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman 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 safe and beware of vote by mail.[6]

The allegations in the robocall were completely unfounded, even characterized as “making sh** up” by the defendants.[7] The state election law in New York prohibits using voter information for non-election purposes.[8] The defendants made it clear that their intention was to discourage black, democratic voters from participating in the election.

The 15th Amendment in the US Constitution grants Americans the right to vote, a quintessential piece of our system of democracy. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans feared in-person voting in 2020. Mail-in voting was a reasonable alternative to safely exercise their voting rights. For the targeted victims of the robocall, the decision to utilize mail-in ballots was altered.

While technology makes it easier to reach a vast number of people, it poses a greater risk when dealing with fraudulent actors. This fraud was found to be repeated approximately 5,494 times as the robocall reached an equivalent number of voters in New York.[9] This case represents a victory for voting rights and our system of democracy. Now, the Court waits to hear the relief sought against defendants.

[1] Nat’l Coal. on Black Civic Participation v. Wohl, No. 20 Civ. 8668, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39098, at 3-4 (N.Y. Dist. Ct. for the S.D. of N.Y. Mar. 8, 2023).

[2] Id. at 104.

[3] Id. at 15.

[4] Id. at 8.

[5] Id. at 11-12.

[6] Wohl, No. 20 Civ. 8668, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39098, at 7-8.

[7] Id. at 5.

[8] Id. at 13.

[9] Id. at 88.