They ran a voter suppression scheme. Now an Ohio judge has sentenced them to register voters

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — Two far-right operatives who told tens of thousands of people not to vote by mail in a robocall scheme will now have to spend 500 hours registering people to vote thanks to a legal sentence from an Ohio judge.

Jacob Wohl, pictured here surrounded by police officers at a 2020 protest in Washington D.C. holds a bullhorn
Jacob Wohl, pictured here surrounded by police officers at a 2020 protest in Washington D.C., is one of two right-wing activists who were behind a 2020 robocall scheme that targeted minority voters. Wohl will now face probation, fines and 500 hours of voter registration assistance for pleading guilty to telecommunications fraud. [Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images]
Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman robocalled roughly 85,000 voters across Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio in the summer of 2020, falsely telling them that voting by mail would risk “giving your private information to the man.”

Prosecutors say the pair were targeting neighborhoods known to have a high percentage of Black voters.

The robocaller, who claimed to be with a non-existent group called “the 1599 project,” falsely said that voters’ information would go into a database accessible to police, debt collectors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would use the information to impose vaccine mandates. The caller cited no evidence to support these claims.

Wohl and Burkman, who initially said in an interview with CNN that they weren’t responsible for the calls, pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio in October.

On Tuesday, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court sentenced them to two years of probation, six months of monitoring with a GPS ankle bracelet, $2,500 each in fines and 500 hours of registering voters in Washington, D.C.

“These two individuals attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, a Democrat.

Wohl expressed his “absolute regret and shame over all this,” according to local media outlets who were present during the sentencing hearing.

An attorney for Wohl did not respond to NPR’s request for comment. NPR could not locate the contact information for Burkman’s attorney.

The robocall stunt was only one of several high-profile acts the two activists used to spread disinformation ahead of the presidential election.

Together, they tried and failed to frame Robert Mueller, Pete Buttigieg and Anthony Fauci of sexual assault allegations. They staged a phony FBI raid on Burkman’s own house, successfully fooling The Washington Post into doing a story. They allegedly stole the phone of a White House liaison that Wohl was dating to tweet out false allegations from her account, then said she’d accused Wohl of kidnapping.

For their role in the robocalls, the duo is facing felony charges in Michigan, plus lawsuits from various civil rights groups and the state attorney general in New York.

The Federal Communications Commission is also considering fining the pair a record-breaking $5 million for making robocalls to cellphones without consent.

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