From Albany: ‘Operation Hardhat,’ Report on Voter Intimidation

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State Police and another law enforcement agency issued 444 tickets during last week’s Operation Hardhat, an initiative between law enforcement entities, the New York State Department of Transportation and the New York State Thruway Authority, to crack down on work zone violations. 

During Operation Hardhat, members of law enforcement patrol Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority work zones to enforce work zone speed limits and ensure that motorists are obeying flagging personnel.

Long Island recorded 59 of those violations.

The 444 tickets issued during Operation Hardhat last week included the following violations:

  • Speeding – 81
  • Seatbelts – 41
  • Cell Phone – 135
  •  Failure to Move Over – 47 
  • Failure to Obey Traffic Control Device – 1
  • Other violations – 139 

 

Fake Comments

New York Attorney General Letitia James Thursday released a report detailing the results of her office’s investigation into fake, public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 2017 proceeding to repeal net neutrality rules. Net neutrality prohibits broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or charging companies to prioritize certain content on the internet.

James’ investigation uncovered widespread fraud, as well as abusive practices used to sway government policy — using masses of comments and messages to create the false impression of popular support. Additionally, Attorney General James today resolved investigations into three companies that contributed to the millions of fake comments submitted in the 2017 net neutrality proceeding.

Through its investigation, James’ office found that, in 2017, the nation’s largest broadband companies funded a secret campaign to generate millions of comments to the FCC. Many of these comments addressed the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. This practice — disguising an orchestrated, paid campaign as a grassroots effort, to create a false appearance of genuine, unpaid public support — is often referred to as astroturfing, James’ office said. To help generate these comments, the broadband industry engaged commercial lead generators that used prizes — like gift cards and sweepstakes entries — to lure consumers to their websites and join the campaign. However, nearly every lead generator that was hired to enroll consumers in the campaign, instead, simply fabricated consumers’ responses, the office said. As a result, more than 8.5 million fake comments that impersonated real people were submitted to the FCC, and more than half a million fake letters were sent to Congress.

The OAG also found that the FCC received another 9.3 million fake comments supporting net neutrality that used fictitious identities. Most of these comments were submitted by a single person — a 19-year old college student using automated software. In all, the OAG said that nearly 18 million of the more than 22 million comments the FCC received in its 2017 proceeding to repeal net neutrality rules were fake.

State Police Honored

New York State Police Acting Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen commended 20 individuals and one division unit for bravery, investigative persistence, police education, traffic safety, community service and overall exceptional contributions at the New York State Police Awards Day Ceremony.

Water Quality 

The New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) have  announced a new initiative to assist municipalities with assessing and supporting drinking water source protection programs. As part of the Drinking Water Source Protection Program (DWSP2), up to 40 volunteer communities will work with technical assistance partners to develop programs that protect public drinking water supplies. DWSP2 is a multi-agency initiative led by DEC and DOH, in collaboration with the Departments of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) and State (DOS).

“The Drinking Water Source Protection Program empowers communities to protect their sources of public drinking water, ensuring good water quality and protecting public health,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “This is the first phase in an effort that will eventually benefit hundreds of communities across the state and advance the State’s commitment to protecting water quality and providing safe drinking water for all New Yorkers.”

Communities interested in the Drinking Water Source Protection Program can learn more on DEC’s website or contact [email protected].

 

Voter Robocall Case

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a request to intervene in a federal proceeding against two men accused of trying to suppress Black voters ahead of the 2020 election.

An investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, using their organization “Project 1599,” violated state and federal laws by orchestrating robocalls to threaten and harass Black communities through disinformation, including claims that mail-in voters would have their personal information disseminated to law enforcement, debt collectors, and the government.

The Wohl and Burkman robocall campaign, which reached approximately 5,500 New Yorkers, sought to undermine and interfere with the then-ongoing efforts by the state of New York to  administer its elections during the COVID-19 crisis and protect its citizens from voter intimidation and harassment. 

James’ action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeks to cease further such actions by Wohl, Burkman, and their associates.

The OAG launched an investigation into Wohl and Burkman after receiving tips from the public that they received automated messages discouraging them from voting by mail. The investigation found that in the summer of 2020, Wohl and Burkman created a robocall recording, falsely claiming that voting by mail would subject the voter to having their personal information used by the police to track old warrants, credit card companies to collect debts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track individuals for mandatory vaccines, all of which was false. A text of the automated recording reads:

“Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burman 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 home safe and beware of vote by mail.”

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