FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 9, 2023
LANSING – Today, the Department of Attorney General gave oral argument before the Michigan Supreme Court in the matters of People v. Burkman andPeople v. Wohl. The Court has agreed to hear argument on the question of whether Burkman and Wohl’s specific acts could constitute a criminal act contrary to MCL 168.932(a), and whether MCL 168.932(a) is itself a constitutional statute.
Attorney General Dana Nessel filed charges in the 36th District Court in Detroit in October of 2020 against Burkman and Wohl for allegedly orchestrating a series of robocalls aimed at suppressing the vote of predominantly black voters in Detroit in the 2020 general election by promoting falsehoods that:
- voting by mail would place voters’ personal information in a public database that will be used by police departments to track down individuals with outstanding warrants;
- voting by mail would place voters’ personal information in a public database that will be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts; and
- the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were attempting to utilize vote by mail records to track individuals for mandatory vaccines.
The robocall named Burkman and Wohl as responsible for the call and claimed them to be the founders of a “civil rights organization” named ‘Project 1599’. It closed with a message urging the predominantly Black recipients to not be “finessed into giving your private information to the man. Stay safe and beware of vote by mail.”
“This robocall is an egregious example of voter suppression, targeting Black voters with flat-out lies meant to intimidate them from going to the polls and expressing their voice in our democracy,” said Nessel. “My department is intent on bringing these men to justice for a clear and malignant example of voter intimidation and suppression. Beyond that, we must defend Michigan’s law barring this deceptive and insidious behavior, ensuring that this important law remains in place to defend voters from such malice and misinformation.”
Jack Burkman, 57, and Jacob Wohl, 25, are each charged with:
- One count of election law – bribing/intimidating voters, a five-year felony;
- One count of conspiracy to commit an election law violation, a five-year felony;
- One count of using a computer to commit the crime of election law – intimidating voters, a seven-year felony; and
- Using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy, a seven-year felony.
The People allege Burkman, an Arlington, Virginia resident, and Wohl, a Los Angeles, California resident, attempted to discourage voters from participating in the general election by creating and funding a robocall targeting specific and multiple urban areas across the country, including Detroit. The calls were made in late August of 2020 and went out to nearly 12,000 residents with phone numbers from the 313 area code. During its investigation, Nessel’s office communicated with attorney general offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, all of which reported similar robocalls being made to residents in their states who live in urban areas with significant minority populations. It is believed around 85,000 calls were made nationally, though an exact breakdown of the numbers of calls to each city or state are not available.
Following the formal charges from the Attorney General both men were bound over for trial. Burkman and Wohl filed a motion to quash the charges in the Circuit Court. The Court denied this motion, and the defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals declined to hear their appeal. Burkman and Wohl then filed an application in the Michigan Supreme Court, which remanded the matter to the Court of Appeals and required they hear the appeal. The Court of Appeals heard the defendants out and denied their motion, ruling in a published opinion that the statute fits and criminalizes their conduct and that it is a constitutional application of the statute. Defendants Burkman and Wohl then appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court of Michigan, leading to today’s oral arguments. Should the Michigan Supreme Court rule in favor of The People, the criminal trial would resume.