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Far-Right Activists Indicted For Alleged Voter Intimidation In Cleveland

Jack Burkman, a 54-year-old Virginia man, and Jacob Wohl, a 22-year-old Californian, are charged in Cuyahoga County with fraud and bribery. [D M / Creative Commons]
Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman stand behind a podium.

Updated: 5:45 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020

Two out-of-state far-right activists have been charged with intimidating voters in Cuyahoga County.

According to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office, the scheme was allegedly hatched by Jacob Wohl, 22, and Jack Burkman, 54, to deter people from voting by mail.

The pair is accused of sending more than 8,100 robocalls on Aug. 26 to phone numbers in Cleveland and East Cleveland.

The prerecorded messages falsely told people their information could be used by law enforcement to follow up on old warrants, by debt collectors and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track them in the future for mandatory vaccinations.

“Don't be finessed into giving your private information to the man. Stay safe and beware of vote-by-mail,” a woman's voice on the robocall concludes.

“These are all false,” said Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Richard Bell, “and 3,400 of our voters on the east side of Cleveland – East Cleveland and the Glenville area – were targeted, targeted specifically so they wouldn’t exercise their right to vote by mail.”

Wohl and Burkman are each charged with 15 counts of telecommunications fraud and bribery. They face up to 18.5 years in prison.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental component of our nation’s democracy,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley in a press release. “These individuals clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election.”

The case was referred to Cuyahoga County by the state attorney general’s office after receiving multiple complaints.

Warrants have been issued for Wohl and Burkman’s arrest.

Earlier this month, both men were indicted for making similar calls in Detroit and face prison time there. According to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, similar calls were made targeting minority populations in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.