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2 men who targeted Black voters in Northeast Ohio with robocalls could face $5.1 mil in fines

The two men devised a robocall scam in the run up to the 2020 presidential election that reached more than 1,000 numbers in Cleveland and East Cleveland.
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed a more than $5.1 million fine against two men for making 1,141 robocalls to wireless phones in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

This is the largest robocall fine ever proposed by the commission, according to an FCC media release.

The FCC says John M. Burkman, 54, Jacob Alexander Wohl, 22, and J.M. Burkman & Associates LLC violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act when they made robocalls in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election telling potential voters that, if they voted by mail, their “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 proposed fines are not final commission actions, the release said. Burkman and Wohl will be given the opportunity to defend themselves before the commission makes a final decision

In August, the two men were also indicted in Cuyahoga County on charges related to a voter intimidation scam that targeted Black voters in Cleveland and East Cleveland, according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office.

Burkman, of Virginia, and Wohl, of California, were each indicted on eight counts of telecommunications fraud and seven counts of bribery after using a voice broadcasting service provider to make more than 67,000 calls to people in minority communities across the Midwest, according to a county press release. Those calls included calls to landlines as well as wireless numbers.

Prosecutor discusses indictments for voter intimidation scam targeting minority communities in Cuyahoga County https://bit.ly/3jsTqyQ

Posted by Cleveland 19 News on Tuesday, October 27, 2020

On Aug. 26, Burkman and Wohl made more than 8,100 calls to three zip codes with large Black communities located in Cleveland and East Cleveland, the prosecutor’s office said.

More than 3,400 of those calls were answered by either a live person or voicemail.

The calls delivered prerecorded messages that falsely warned people that if they voted by mail their information could be used by law enforcement, collection agencies, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pursue old warrants, collect outstanding debts, and track people for mandatory vaccines.

Click here to listen to a recording of the robocall.

Residents complained to the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section, which investigated and referred the case to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley.

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