New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement with robocall company Message Communications, Inc. to resolve allegations concerning its involvement in a scheme designed by conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman to prevent Black New Yorkers from voting by mail in the 2020 election.
According to the OAG, the investigation into the scheme, launched after the OAG received tips from robocall recipients, found that Wohl and Burkman, hiding behind a sham organization, orchestrated illegal robocalls to threaten and harass Black communities. The OAG said that discriminatory calls, sent by Message Communications, included false claims that mail-in voters' personal information would be disseminated to law enforcement, debt collectors and the government in an attempt to discourage such individuals from voting. The following is a transcript of the automated recording:
"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."
The OAG alleged that, in August 2020, Message Communications disseminated the robocall to more than 85,000 phone numbers nationwide, including approximately 5,500 phone numbers with New York area codes. The OAG found that Wohl and Burkman clearly and deliberately targeted Black communities in carrying out their campaign. For example, the OAG alleged that the day before the robocalls were placed, Wohl emailed Burkman the audio file and stated, "[w]e should send it to black neighborhoods..."
"Voting is our most basic democratic right, and we will not allow anyone to threaten that right for any group of people in this country," said Attorney General James. "This scheme to intimidate and discourage Black voters in an attempt to sway an election is reprehensible. While states across the country may continue to threaten our democracy, I will always stand up in defense of New Yorkers' fundamental right to vote."
Under the terms of the settlement, Message Communications will pay $50,000 in restitution, which will be distributed to New Yorkers who received the robocalls. Additionally, the company is required to send out a voter protection robocall (placed by an approved non-partisan voting rights organization); refrain from knowingly transmitting any robocalls that would intimidate or deter voters from voting by any method in any election; adopt a policy to prohibit customers from using its services to violate any election laws, civil rights statutes or consumer protection laws; and screen customers and all election-related robocalls to prevent intimidating messages from being sent. The OAG's case against Wohl, Burkman and their organizations remains ongoing.
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