ElectionUS News

Attorney General James Secures Over A Million from Conspiracy Theorists Who Intimidated Black Voters with Threatening Robocalls

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman Targeted Black Voters with Robocall Campaign to Suppress the Vote Ahead of the 2020 Election


NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced that she has reached an agreement on proposed relief from two conspiracy theorists who launched a robocall campaign designed to prevent Black New Yorkers from voting by mail ahead of the 2020 election. In March 2023, a federal judge ruled in Attorney General James’ favor and found Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman liable for targeting Black voters and transmitting false and threatening messages intended to discourage voting. Under this agreement, Wohl and Burkman will pay up to $1.25 million for their wrongdoing.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it belongs to everyone. We will not allow anyone to threaten that right,” said Attorney General James. “Wohl and Burkman orchestrated a depraved and disinformation-ridden campaign to intimidate Black voters in an attempt to sway the election in favor of their preferred candidate. Now they will pay up to $1.25 million to my office, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and the individuals who were harmed by their scheme. My office will always defend the right to vote.”

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Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against Wohl and Burkman in May 2021 after an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that they violated state and federal laws. While hiding behind their sham organization “Project 1599,” Wohl and Burkman orchestrated robocalls to threaten and harass Black communities with disinformation, including claims that mail-in voters would have their personal information disseminated to law enforcement, debt collectors, and the government. In August 2022, Attorney General James announced a settlement with robocalling platform Message Communications for its role in sending out the illegal robocall designed by Wohl and Burkman.

The Wohl and Burkman robocall campaign, which reached approximately 5,500 New Yorkers, sought to undermine and interfere with the then-ongoing efforts by New York state to fairly and safely administer its elections during the COVID-19 crisis and protect its citizens from voter intimidation and harassment. During the summer of 2020, voters received automated calls falsely claiming that voting by mail would cause the voter to be tracked for outstanding warrants, credit card debt, and mandatory vaccines, for example:

“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.” 

One New York voter who received the threatening robocall suffered severe anxiety and distress, and ultimately withdrew his voter registration. After voters received the robocall, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) was forced to redirect considerable resources to address the false claims made in the call.

Under the agreement, Wohl and Burkman conceded a $1 million judgment to OAG, NCBCP, and individual plaintiffs. If Wohl and Burkman fail to pay at least $105,000 by December 31, 2024, and do not address the failure to pay within 30 days, the amount will increase to $1.25 million.

Attorney General James urges voters with election-related concerns to contact OAG by submitting a complaint online or calling 1-800-771-7755.

The OAG litigated this case alongside co-plaintiffs comprised of voters who received the robocall and NCBCP, all of whom are being represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

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“This groundbreaking settlement should send an emphatic message to anyone who aims to prevent Black people from exercising their right to vote,” said Damon T. Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Voter suppression and voter intimidation are illegal, immoral, and anti-democratic. Regardless of whether the perpetrators are government actors or private citizens, your actions will have consequences, and you will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. At a time when orchestrated voter intimidation and disinformation campaigns are on the rise, we must all remain vigilant in working to ensure that access to the ballot is fair, easy, and accessible.”

“These men engaged in a conspiracy to suppress Black votes in the 2020 general election,” said Melanie Campbell, President/CEO of NCBCP. “They used intimidation and scare tactics, attempting to spread harmful disinformation about voting in an effort to silence Black voices. Their conduct cannot and will not be tolerated. This settlement serves as a marker for those who seek to engage in such efforts. There will be consequences for their actions. They will pay for the harm they cause to our democracy.”

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Colleen K. Faherty, Hate Crimes Section Chief Rick Sawyer, Assistant Attorney General Yasmin Dagne, and Legal Support Analyst Heather-Destiny Konan under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Sandra S. Park. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.