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Duo indicted for allegedly targeting and intimidating minority voters in Cleveland, East Cleveland from voting by mail

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Posted at 12:05 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 18:26:55-04

CLEVELAND — A Virginia man and a California man have been indicted for allegedly devising a robocall scam that attempted to suppress voting in minority neighborhoods in multiple states and cities, including Cleveland and East Cleveland, according to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.

"We have a clear case of voter suppression and voter intimidation," Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Richard Bell said. "They conspired with each other to create a robocall that would go out to our residents, specifically targeting the minority community here in Cuyahoga County."

John Burkman, 54, of Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of California, were both indicted on eight counts of telecommunications fraud and seven counts of bribery.

It is alleged that on Aug. 26, Burkman and Wohl used a voice broadcasting service provider to place over 67,000 calls across multiple Midwest states. County prosecutors said over 8,100 of those calls were sent to numbers in Cleveland and East Cleveland—3,400 of which were answered either by a live person or voicemail, the prosecutor's office said.

Listen to the robocall Ohioans allegedly received in the audio clip below:

Prosecutors said the pre-recorded messages falsely warned residents that if they voted by mail, their information could be used by law enforcement, collection agencies, and the Center for Disease Control with the purpose of collecting outstanding debts, pursuing old warrants and tracking people for mandatory vaccines.

"This is outrageous activity," Bell said. "This is a blatant attempt to suppress the vote for people that may not understand that this is a scare tactic."

After multiple complaints were received, Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section investigated the phone calls and connected Burkman and Wohl to the alleged crimes.

"We’ve been able to corroborate that they did in fact know each other and that there were emails that were sent to this company in order to get this done together," Bell said.

Both will be arraigned at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center at a later date. If convicted, the duo could face a maximum term of 18.5 years in prison.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental component of our nation’s democracy. These individuals clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election. These actions will not be tolerated. Anyone who interferes with others’ right to vote must be held accountable,” said O’Malley in a news release. “I commend Attorney General Dave Yost and his staff for their diligent work on this investigation. We urge all citizens to get out and vote. Do not let these individuals or others like them succeed. Exercise your right and get out and VOTE!”