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FCC Plans to Fine Far-Right Group Behind Robocall Campaign

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a $5.1 million fine against two far-right operatives responsible for a robocall campaign that intended to discourage Black citizens from voting last year.

(TNS) — The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $5.1 million fine against two right-wing operatives for running a robocall campaign meant to intimidate Black residents in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere into not voting by mail during last year’s presidential election.

The proposed fine, announced by the FCC on Tuesday against 22-year-old Jacob Wohl of Irvine, California, and 54-year-old Jack Burkman of Arlington, Virginia, would be the largest fine ever levied under the 30-year-old Telephone Consumer Protection Act, according to an FCC release.

Wohl and Burkman have pleaded not guilty in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to eight counts of telecommunications fraud and seven counts of bribery in connection with more than 8,000 calls that were placed to residents of Cleveland and East Cleveland.

The robocalls, made on Aug. 26 and Sept. 14, 2020, told potential voters falsely that if they vote 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,” according to the FCC.

Authorities say the pair’s organization, Project 1599, made more than 85,000 calls in all to residents of Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois – particularly targeting voters in urban areas with high percentages of minority and Democratic voters.

Ohio’s investigation began when then-U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat, and others went to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, which referred the case to prosecutors in Cuyahoga County.

Yost’s office helped the FCC identify two dialing service providers that confirmed details about the robocalls and that Wohl and Burkman had hired them, as well as other information about the scheme, according to an FCC release.

Wohl and Burkman are also facing criminal charges in Michigan, as well as a $2.75 million lawsuit from the New York attorney general’s office.

Yost, a Columbus Republican, tweeted Wednesday that the FCC’s fine will “cripple” Wohl and Burkman, as well as “send a warning to others (right or left) about similar conduct.”

The FCC release said the commission will now give Wohl and Burkman a chance to respond before it makes a final decision on the proposed $5.1 million fine.

Even if the full $5.1 million fine is imposed, it’s unclear how much the FCC will collect from the pair. While the FCC has ordered violators of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to pay a total of $208.4 million between 2015 and 2019, the government only collected $6,790 of those fines during that time, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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