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Authorities: False robocalls discouraged Black residents in NY, other states from voting by mail

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media during a news conference in Lansing, Mich. Jacob Wohl, 22, and Jack Burkman, 54, two notorious conservative operatives were charged Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 with felonies in connection with false robocalls that aimed to dissuade residents in Detroit and other U.S. cities from voting by mail, Michigan's attorney general announced. Credit: AP/David Eggert

DETROIT — A judge on Thursday set bond at $100,000 for two conservative political activists who are accused of using false robocalls to dissuade Black residents in Detroit and other Democratic-leaning U.S. cities from voting by mail.

The magistrate entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of Jack Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles.

The men didn't speak during a brief court hearing that was held by video conference. But their attorneys sparred with a state prosecutor over a request for $1 million cash bond.

"Is this a CSC 1?" asked Scott Grabel, the lawyer for Burkman, using shorthand for a sexual assault charge. "It involves a 20-second call that involved no threats. It did not deter any voting."

Grabel said the charges were an "absolute atrocity" and a "publicity stunt" by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.

"The chance of conviction here, in my opinion, is zero, absolutely zero. It's involving a robocall, which is protected speech," Grabel said.

The calls falsely warned residents in majority-Black Detroit and cities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois that if they vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election they could be subjected to arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination, investigators said.

The charges against Burkman and Wohl include conspiring to intimidate voters and using a computer to commit crimes. An estimated 85,000 robocalls were made nationwide, according to the attorney general's office.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham asked for a $1 million bond, saying it would protect the public from efforts to discourage voting, "one of the fundamental rights we have."

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