ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWSnet/AP) — Two conservative political operatives who launched a robocall campaign to dissuade Black people from voting in the 2020 election have agreed to pay up to $1.25 million under a settlement with New York state, Attorney General Letitia James said Tuesday.

The operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, were accused of making robocalls to phone numbers in predominately Black neighborhoods in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois that told people they could be subjected to arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination if they voted by mail.

“Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay safe and beware of vote by mail,” the automated recording told potential voters in the leadup to the election.

Wohl and Burkman pleaded guilty to felony telecommunications fraud in Ohio in 2022. The pair were sued in New York in 2020 by a civil rights organization, The National Coalition on Black Civil Participation, along with people who received the calls and the state attorney general.

Prosecutors have said the robocalls went out to about 85,000 people across the U.S., including around 5,500 phone numbers with New York area codes, as officials were coordinating unprecedented mail voting campaigns because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The consent decree orders Wohl and Burkman to pay $1 million to the plaintiffs, with the sum increasing to $1.25 million if the pair does not hand over at least $105,000 by the end of the year. The agreement does allow Wohl and Burkman to reduce their total payment to about $400,000 if they meet a series of payment deadlines over the next several years.

The settlement also requires Wohl and Burkman to notify the attorney general’s office before any lobbying or political campaigning in New York, and they will have to submit a copy of any future election-related, mass communication efforts to the plaintiff for review 30 days before the messaging reaches the public.

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