FDLE backs off plan to seal phone records in PTC records lawsuit as criminal investigation proceeds

Former Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream appeared in a hearing to discuss missing public records from his agency cell phone in Tampa, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 at the thirteenth judicial court in Tampa, FL. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

“The PTC needs more, not less transparency; FDLE’s motion to seal public records does not accomplish that goal,” said Mogensen. “The public is entitled to know what its government has been up to.”

by the Tampa Bay Times’ Christopher O’Donnell

February 15, 2017

One day after asking a judge to seal records at the center of a public records lawsuit filed against the Public Transportation Commission, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has abruptly withdrawn its request.

The original request was made in a motion filed Tuesday by FDLE Assistant General Counsel Janine Robinson. It asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen to seal copies of phone records held by Verizon that may include copies of text messages sent by former PTC chief Kyle Cockream.

Robinson had stated that the records needed to remain under wraps to ensure the integrity of a criminal investigation into whether text messages were deliberately destroyed by PTC officials. FDLE agents planned to obtain the records themselves through a subpoena, she wrote.

But she withdrew that request in a subsequent motion filed late Wednesday. No reason was given for the change of mind but the move was set to be challenged by Andrea Flynn Mogensen, a Sarasota attorney. She sued the PTC in September because it did not fully comply with a public records request.

“The PTC needs more, not less transparency; FDLE’s motion to seal public records does not accomplish that goal,” said Mogensen. “The public is entitled to know what its government has been up to.”

Mogensen on Wednesday also filed a subpoena with AT&T Wireless for any public records that may be on Cockream’s personal cell phone.

Copies of the texts held by the phone carrier may be the best hope of obtaining the messages that appear to be missing from Cockream’s phone. A forensic investigator working for Hillsborough County found that seven agency phones and Cockream’s personal phone had been reset on Oct. 8, a process that wiped them clean.

A PTC invoice shows that the agency on Oct. 12 paid $2,994 to Valrico tech firm Data Specialist Group for work they did on the phones that was detailed as “Mobile device data recovery.”

FDLE officials confirmed Friday that their inquiry into the missing records has become a full criminal investigation. Text messages related to agency business are considered public records. Deliberate deletion of those records is a misdemeanor crime under state law.

When asked about the phones at a deposition Monday, Cockream repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment, a privilege that allows a witness to decline to answer questions if the answers might be incriminating.

His attorney, Michael Carey, said at a hearing Wednesday that his client is cooperating with the civil lawsuit. He has provided access to an online account that may contain a backup of his phone records and also made available his home computer and a tablet computer. Cockream has hired his own tech expert to verify the work done by the county’s forensic investigator. [READ MORE]

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