That announcement by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel came on the heels of her counterpart in New York, a fellow Democrat, asking to intervene in a civil lawsuit the same defendants face there.
Each of the cases involve allegations of voter intimidation stemming from a robocall campaign that was conducted by Mr. Wohl and Mr. Bukman roughly two months before the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Recipients of the robocall were played a pre-recorded audio message rife with misinformation about voting by mail as millions of Americans considered doing such due to the novel coronavirus pandemic:
“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.”
“In this country, our vote is our voice – it is one of the most important parts of our democracy. Any attempt to discourage communities from voting is as illegal as it is un-American,” said Ms. James.
Ms. James has asked the court to let New York join that suit, which alleges violations of state laws, plus the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
In a proposed complaint, Ms. James also requested the suit be expanded to include as defendants both the company that placed the robocall, Message Communications Inc., and its owner, Robert Mahanian.
“No voter should ever be subjected to such harassment or intimidation when exercising their fundamental right to vote,” Ms. James said in a statement announcing her office sought to intervene.
David M. Schwartz, a lawyer defending Mr Wohl and Mr. Bukman in the New York case, told The Washington Times that he believed “there is nothing threatening about any of the calls” that were made.
“We will fight this case in court and we look forward to a trial challenging all of these fictional claims,” Mr. Schwartz said in an email. “This case is nothing more than a furtherance of the cancel culture movement and that only people holding a certain opinion have a right to be heard.”
Indeed, Ms. Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, said that Mr. Wohl and Mr. Burkman will stand trial for related criminal charges after a state appeals court this week denied their motion to dismiss.
“I applaud the Court of Appeals decision and my office stands ready to proceed with this case,” said Ms. Nessel “We remain committed to defending democracy against misinformation spread in an attempt to undermine our free and fair elections.”
Mr. Wohl and Mr. Burkman have been charged in Wayne County Circuit County with election law – intimidating votes; conspiracy to commit an election law violation; using a computer to commit the crime of election law – intimidating voters; and using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges, all felonies, and their eventual trial has not yet been set.
They also face charges filed in Ohio last October by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office over the robocall, including eight counts of telecommunications fraud and seven counts of bribery, which state law describes as an attempt by “intimidation, coercion or other unlawful means” to prevent a person from voting. They have pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.
Ms. James said the robocall reached approximately 5,500 New Yorkers, and she has asked the defendants be ordered to pay a penalty of up to $500 for each instance.
A message requesting comment from Message Communications, the company that placed the calls, was not immediately answered.
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