The tale of a right-wing scam artist's downward trajectory
I didn't want to report this in the first person, but here we are.
Last week I received a press release from right-wing internet troll Jacob Wohl and his decades-older partner, conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman, announcing a stunt so outlandish it did not come close to the level of publication. I could track down only one other journalist who received the press release, and no one wrote about it.
Is there a common denominator? There is. In recent weeks, that other journalist, Jared Holt, and I have both published articles about Wohl's looming trial for criminal securities fraud in California, as well as his liability for non-payment on a 2017 judgment in Arizona, which also involved securities violations.
Wohl and a former business partner pleaded not guilty to two counts of securities fraud this February in front of a judge in Riverside, California. Their trial has been extensively delayed, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, the Arizona Corporation Commission — in conjunction with the Arizona attorney general's office and legal counsel in California — is actively pursuing Wohl with regards to the $43,000 he still owes the state.
After I posted the second story to Twitter, a user comment pointed me to a since-deleted tweet from a woman named Kristin, who claimed to have worked with Wohl and Burkman on some of their infamously hapless public defamation stunts in the past.
For those unfamiliar with this sordid history, Wohl and Burkman have convinced, coerced and/or paid a number of real people to accuse their political enemies du jour of wrongdoing, most often in the form of absurd acts of sexual impropriety or assault in hotel rooms.
For instance, they accused former special counsel Robert Mueller of raping a woman in a New York hotel room in 2010. They claimed that Sen. Elizabeth Warren had carried on a BDSM-flavored extramarital affair with a young Marine in a Massachusetts Hilton in August 2018. They tricked a young man into signing an affidavit claiming that former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg sexually assaulted him at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in 2019, an allegation the young man immediately recanted, saying that Wohl and Burkman had deceived him.
Most recently the duo appears to have paid a young woman thousands of dollars to accuse Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of sexually assaulting her in a Baltimore hotel room in 2014.
Fabrications not confined to hotel rooms include Nancy Pelosi's Percocet addiction and Sen. Ted Cruz's "swinger" lifestyle.
None of those accusations, or any of the others, bear any known relationship to reality. Here's a detailed rundown.
But "Kristin," the Twitter account, claimed that this rolling smear campaign was just a reality show. What's more, they had actually recruited her, Kristin said, though she did not actually participate in any Wohl-Burkman scams.
In one tweet, Kristin wrote, "I have nothing but good things to say about them (and everything was platonic and I was treated well). People shouldn't judge this girl for backing out because it's a scary thing to do, nor should they make assumptions about Wohl and Burkman's intentions."
Kristin's Twitter bio described her as a "Model, mom and paralegal. Marylander for life:)". She had only one follower, and followed about 50 accounts, mostly right-wing media and political figures, including Jacob Wohl's father, David.
Lo and behold, she had left her direct messages open, allowing anyone to contact her.
At this point I was already about 110% sure that Kristin was actually Jacob Wohl. I reached out.
"Can I get back to you on this?" Kristin replied.
"Sure," I said. "When's a good time, do you think?"
"As soon as I figure out how I'm going to handle everything," she said.
"OK," I responded. "Let me know."
I didn't hear anything until the next day, when Kristin returned to say, "OK, I'll talk with you. Do you have a number? I had to talk with my lawyers first and decide if I should come out with everything."
Kristin gave me her number, but I hadn't seen the new messages. She found my phone number online and called me that night — definitely a woman's voice. I couldn't talk, but we set another time.
My wife is a politics hound who also follows Wohl, so I thought she'd get a kick out of this strange tale. I assumed, egotistically, that the whole thing was some weird Wohlian attempt to sting me or weave me into their next farce.
When she saw Kristin's profile picture, though, her mouth dropped: My wife knew Kristin, who was a real person. They both went to suburban Maryland high schools and had 53 Facebook friends in common, including her closest friends.
Kristin's full name is Kristin Spealman, and her Twitter bio is accurate: She's a single mom, a model and paralegal living in Maryland. At various points, she has also been Nancy Pelosi's drug dealer and Ted Cruz's concubine.
Spealman told me in a phone call that Burkman cold-called her last September, having found her through a local modeling agency.
"He said he worked with Spike TV," she said. "He said he wanted to meet me. He wanted to talk about this reality show."
Spealman said she agreed to meet Burkman and Wohl for dinner and drinks at Morton's Steakhouse in Bethesda, Maryland. Burkman sent a limo. Spealman said she had filet mignon, Burkman had salmon, and Jacob, at the time on a carnivore diet he has since abandoned, had a porterhouse steak — "and gave me his asparagus."
"We all drank a bit," she added. Burkman paid with an American Express "Black" card, she said.
At that dinner, Burkman seemed in charge. "I thought Jacob was Jack's intern at first," she said. "Just the way he was ordering the limos, stuff like that." (Spealman shared pictures of what she characterized as her contemporaneous notes, with a ? under the name "Jacob.")
"There are only like four good-looking girls in D.C.," she recalls Burkman saying to her. "They were saying they wanted to make me the star of season one of their new reality show."
The show, she said, would be called "Project 1599," the street number of Burkman's home in Arlington, Virginia. The moniker is also his apparently now-prohibited Twitter handle. Burkman was suspended from the site earlier this year for spreading harmful misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Wohl's official account was suspended what feels like ages ago.
"Project 1599," she said, was to be billed as something like a sensationalized political version of the celebrity prank show "Punk'd." They told her it would air on Spike TV, a network that no longer existed at the time — it had disappeared the year before and re-emerged as the Paramount Network.
(Project 1599 was also the name of the entity that emailed me the recent press release.)
Spealman recalled that Burkman told her she stood to make between $200,000 and $300,000 for season one of Project 1599, which would be released in January 2020. She pointed out that if she became a big star, she would be useless as an incognito prankster. They told her they'd film everything beforehand.
It isn't insane to entertain the idea that Wohl and Burkman at one point might have had something going at some level with someone at the Paramount Network. They made this same pitch about Spike TV to another recruit. Their accusations against political figures are so ridiculous, and their press conferences so clownish and cheekily scripted, that it seems like reality TV already. They're clearly in on the joke, on some level.
On another level, of course, there's no joke for anybody to be "in on."
At any rate, Spealman signed on. The trio met a few more times, always in the D.C. area and, perhaps in keeping — consciously or otherwise — with a running theme of the smears, always in hotel rooms. Wohl, she said, had a room that he liked at the W. But there were no more meals, she says, only vodka drinks, which were always provided at those afternoon meet-ups.
"Jacob did more of the talking after that," she said. "And the story soon became that I would come out and say that I was selling painkillers to Nancy Pelosi."
"I was shocked," Spealman said. "I was like, 'Look, I thought this was a different kind of show.' They asked me to lose weight, to get down to 96 pounds — I'm 103, but they wanted me down to 96, to do talk shows like Ellen DeGeneres."
Spealman's idea of stardom was not to appear at a press conference falsely claiming to have sold lethal doses of opioids to the 79-year-old speaker of the House. Burkman offered to talk to any judges for her, should any lawsuits ensue, but she declined.
"That's when they changed it to the affair with Ted Cruz," she said. "Which I was also supposed to do."
They picked Cruz, she said, because the purported reality show's purported producers wanted to make sure the attacks were not all against Democrats.
"I have lawyers," Spealman said. "My friends are lawyers, I am a part-time paralegal. I was worried about lawsuits, you know? I expressed that to them and they said 'This is political satire. If you really feel uncomfortable, in a few weeks you can just come out and say this was all a fake thing.'"
"They said it was performance art," she said. "So it's free speech."
To assure her, she said, Wohl and Burkman offered to make an audio recording of her agreeing to "do something" for money. That way, they said, she'd have evidence it was fake.
It's unclear whether Wohl and Burkman still have that recording. Neither would comment.
"Jacob was the main manipulator," Spealman said. "But both were very aggressive."
She feels intimidated by the duo to this day, and would not readily talk about anything beyond the events of last fall.
Burkman and Wohl scheduled a press conference for mid-October, and on Oct. 16 Spealman went to Burkman's duplex-style house in Arlington to go over the script.
"When I got there to work on the script, it said at the top, 'Affidavit of Kristin Spealman.' That threw me off because I thought it was supposed to be a script," she said. "I took pics of it, and that made them uncomfortable but I said I needed them to rehearse."
She later showed those photos to her lawyers, she said, who "freaked out."
At the rehearsal, Spealman said, Wohl showed her a check for $150,000, which he said would be hers if she went through with the lie as scripted — a claim corroborated by what she said were contemporaneous notes, which she shared in another picture.
Spealman said it appeared to be a business check, not a personal check, but Wohl only briefly allowed her to look at it.
She also shared her photos of the "script," which is labeled "statement of fact and belief" and, except for the name, is identical to the one they later distributed at the press conference.
In an aside, Spealman noted that Burkman's dog — a chocolate-colored dachshund named Jack Jr. — took a shine to her.
"Jack said that Jack Jr. doesn't like many people," said Spealman, who is blonde. "He told me it must be my Aryan blood."
"It was weird," she added. (Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who claims to be half-Jewish and who made an appearance at the Cruz-themed press event staged by Wohl and Burkman — both Jewish — had threatened to kill Jack Jr. earlier this year; Spealman says she never met him.)
Spealman says she told Burkman via text that she was backing out. He called her dozens of times, she said, saying, "This is your big shot."
"But I never said I wanted a big shot," she told me.
They rescheduled the press conference, Spealman said — disappointing a gaggle of bored and cynical journalists — swapping her out for "another model in Virginia," from her same agency, who read the same script, though she used an assumed name.
But then there's this observation from that same Wohl press event, as noted by journalist Molly Jong-Fast: "Across the street was a documentary film crew who wouldn't tell me anything about themselves. They were probably just following some sort of Prime Directive where they didn't want to tarnish the art by becoming part of it. Who can say."
Spealman saw Wohl again after that, she says, at the Nov. 7 opening for a club called Pandora, which Spealman had brought Wohl in to promote. That's documented in an Instagram photo.
At the end of that conversation, Kristin leveled with me: She had known we had friends in common, and yes, she knew my wife, though not very well.
Here is why I wanted to write this in the first person.
When Wohl and Burkman accused Robert Mueller of raping a woman in New York, Brett Kavanaugh and Roy Moore were in the headlines. Wohl went to great lengths to try to bait reporters into covering his bogus claims about Mueller, which appeared to be a media honey-trap as much as anything else.
In other words, I'm reluctant to give these guys attention, but at the same time I couldn't be sure this wasn't worth writing about, because, as I learned, another smear might be in the works. Allegedly.
Of course the existence of a smear doesn't mean it is worth covering. But the credible prospect of a possible unlawful future action is another matter.
Still, I wondered if Wohl was setting me up — a thought I relished, until I learned Kristin and my wife had so many connections, which turned my eagerness to a combination of concern and confusion.
Around the same time I contacted Kristin, I received Twitter messages from an account calling itself "Blackbird Consulting," which had two followers and claimed to be enforcing collection actions against Wohl.
That account has since been suspended. A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately reply to questions about the circumstances.
As for that "model in Virginia" — I found her. Her name is Kylie Garcia-Andrews. She told me in a phone call that Wohl and Burkman had paid her $700 cash to sing the national anthem at an Oct. 9, 2019, press event where Wohl and Burkman trotted out a young man to accuse Sen. Kamala Harris of adultery.
Garcia-Andrews deleted an old Instagram post that linked to that performance — and hashtagged Spike TV.
But despite looking exactly like the woman who took Spealman's place at the Cruz event, Garcia-Andrews says she was not that woman. Spealman says she was, and here is a video of Wohl calling that woman "Kylie."
Ford Fischer, an independent journalist and prolific Wohl watcher whose video was linked in the above Instagram post, told me that Garcia-Andrews had friended him last October on Facebook.
"I didn't know who she was relative to Facebook, but from the bit we talked it seems she was actually at Wohl's pressers twice: once to sing the anthem, and once as a 'Ted Cruz accuser,'" he told me, sharing a screenshot that showed they became Facebook friends on Oct. 15, smack in the middle of the Kamala Harris and Ted Cruz events.
"Kylie is a more common name than you may realize," Kylie told me in a text message denying her involvement in the Cruz stunt. "I mean kylie Jenner has her name on literally everything. It still doesn't prove its me." [sic]
The rest of this gets even muddier than what you've read already. I feel obligated to report what I was told on the record because it regards potential unlawful conduct involving a public figure. Or so I'm told. But here it is, deconflicted as best as possible.
Spealman, who shared a text-message conversation showing she had been in touch with Wohl as recently as this spring, told me that Wohl and Burkman had been planning "an ongoing thing" with Garcia-Andrews.
"She still does stuff with them," Spealman said.
Spealman did not feel comfortable detailing what she knew, she said, in part because "it would ruin something they're doing in the future." She says she decided to come forward because she wants to distance herself from Wohl and Burkman after experiencing harassment online, while making clear she holds no bad feelings against them
She said she had originally been "asked to be involved" in Wohl and Burkman's new stunt, adding, "What's to come is even worse."
"There's something ongoing with that doctor at the White House," Spealman said, evidently meaning Fauci. Wohl and Burkman's attempted smear of Fauci, earlier this year drew press coverage from only one outlet, and was almost immediately debunked by the woman they paid to carry it out.
Or so it seemed: Spealman told me the whole confession was fake, a setup for a journalist.
After our phone conversation last week, Spealman called Burkman. She says she also tried Wohl, who did not answer.
Following her conversation with Burkman, Spealman told me that Garcia-Andrews said she didn't want me to write about her because, she claimed, a murderer was after her.
For her part, Garcia-Andrews rejected Spealman's claim that she was involved in a new "project" with Burkman and Wohl. "They seem shady," Garcia-Andrews said. "They don't seem like the best types of guys, so I don't want to be associated with them."
Spealman echoed those concerns. "I'm worried about them blackmailing me," she said. "Jacob created an audio recording of us in a conversation when they offered me $25,000 to do something — I don't remember what." She's worried he may leak that recording to smear her in the press. She also claims to have received ominous phone calls after we began talking — "People breathing into the phone and hanging up" — and believes her computer was hacked.
All things considered, though, there is something strikingly unfair about the position these two women find themselves in, it seems to me. The targets of Wohl and Burkman's defamatory attacks can afford to ignore them. But the men and women coerced or conscripted to do their dirty work are almost powerless.
But as another Wohl pawn Diane Andrade recently made clear, even if fraudulently, as Spealman claims, they do hold an ace: information.
Spealman said that, depending on what happens after this article is published, she and Kylie might decide to start talking about the other things they know, which, she assures me, are much worse.
She shared some text messages with Wohl about the press release I mentioned above, which I will not be reporting on. She says the subject of that press release is not the same as the alleged new plot they tried to convince her to join.
I find Spealman more credible than Wohl or Burkman, but am also wary of giving them more oxygen for any reason, or playing even a small role in furthering their game.
In 2019, the Daily Beast obtained a document from January of that year showing that Wohl had created a group called the Arlington Center for Political Intelligence, whose purpose, he said, would be to "make shit up" about candidates and public figures in order to manipulate political betting markets and seek to suppress Democratic turnout in 2020.
First Amendment attorney Anne Champion told me, "It would appear that the premise of this company amounts to wire fraud."
Wohl was soliciting $1 million to fund the project. His smears — and promises of major payouts — kicked into high gear that fall. As his trial date for defrauding investors now approaches, they might kick in again. It is unclear what returns any Arlington Center investors might see or expect at this point, several months ahead of a presidential election.
As for the alleged plot looming on the horizon, Spealman and Garcia-Andrews seem to agree on one thing: The new project, whatever it is — if it ever existed — is now, thanks apparently to my one week of investigation, moribund. So there's no need to worry about it, whatever it was.
Spokespeople for Dr. Fauci, Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Harris, Sen. Warren and Sen. Cruz all declined to comment, as did a former spokesperson for Robert Mueller's office, the FBI, and multiple spokespeople for Paramount Networks.
Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman declined to comment, and would not acknowledge that they knew the women.