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Gov. Rick Scott e-mails 'cleaned out' from third source

TALLAHASSEE — E-mails on Gov. Rick Scott's BlackBerry may have been lost in another technology mix-up inside his office.

Scott and his staff have acknowledged that his account and at least 37 others from his two-month transition — a crucial stretch after Election Day when key hires are made and a first-year policy agenda is shaped — were lost when a contract ended with a private company that stored the e-mail data.

Scott also lost about 50 e-mails from his iPad when a staffer inside his office updated software for the device.

Now it's a BlackBerry.

"It's becoming quite a pattern," said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, chair of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. "The first question the public is going to ask is what's being hidden. That is a very legitimate question to ask."

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that, after a Times/Herald public records request, investigators tried to retrieve Scott's transition e-mails from his BlackBerry.

Investigators were told the wireless signal had been turned off on Scott's phone, which meant the e-mails might remain on the phone, according to the FDLE records.

Investigators did recover some e-mails but found that the wireless signal had been activated, syncing the device to the empty transition account and deleting the records from the phone, Jennifer Roeder of FDLE's Digital Evidence Section wrote to colleagues in April.

"None of those e-mail accounts exist anymore, so the BlackBerry cleaned out the cache of e-mails that were no longer accessible on the servers," Roeder wrote.

The Times/Herald first reported in August that e-mails from Scott's two-month transition were not retained — a possible violation of Florida's public records law.

Scott and his staff have acknowledged nearly all accounts from the transition were lost when a contract ended with Rackspace, the Texas-based private company that operated the accounts.

Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate why the accounts were deleted and whether any e-mails could be retrieved.

Records show that Scott's team was aware the e-mails were deleted as early as March and that FDLE investigators knew in April.

Scott declined to comment Wednesday. "As soon as they get their investigation done, we'll get the information out," Scott said.

News that the governor's e-mails were cleared from a third source drew lawmakers' attention.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the Legislature should review the public records law for ways to tighten requirements for a governor's transition into office.

"He was a businessman. I can only imagine the last thing he was thinking about was keeping documents prior to becoming governor," Fasano said. "Either his advisers did not understand the public records law or they were ignored."

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he would review recommendations on expanding public records law from the Florida Commission on Open Government, of which he was a member.

"It's important that what we do is publicly available," Weatherford said. "It's accountability. It shows the process of how we make decisions. And that should be scrutinized by the public."

Scott lost at least 50 e-mails from his iPad when a staffer inside his office updated software for the device in April. Scott's legal advisers disclosed that information last week in a meeting with the Florida First Amendment Foundation, an open government advocacy group whose board includes members of the media, including the St. Petersburg Times.

The foundation then requested records from the FDLE related to the agency's attempt to restore the iPad. Those records show investigators were also unable to collect documents from his BlackBerry.

Roeder recovered 87 pages of content, but some messages appeared truncated or otherwise incomplete, something common in e-mails on BlackBerrys.

"The bad news: There is no way for me to prove that we got all of the e-mail content off the phone because the messages have been cleared out of the phone," Roeder wrote in an e-mail.

A member of Scott's transition team warned colleagues in January that the Rackspace accounts were closing and suggested they retrieve any records they needed. But Scott's team said they didn't know that meant the accounts would be deleted, as Rackspace's policy states.

The FDLE e-mails also give a window into the frustration the issue has created for state investigators.

Brett Cureton, in FDLE's Computer Crime Center, wrote the iPad was "too new" to recover records.

"Forensics always lags behind new technology," he wrote.

Roeder wrote that she wished the "freaking e-mails were still on the freaking phone."

"The only explanation that I have is that s--- happens — unsatisfying but true," she said.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Where Scott's team has searched for his e-mails:

The computer server: Scott used Rackspace, a Texas-based company, to host e-mail accounts for his campaign and then his transition team. But the transition team closed at least 38 accounts, including Scott's, when he was sworn into office. The company says e-mails for all of those accounts have been deleted.

The iPad: The tech team in the Governor's Office tried to retrieve 50 transition e-mails Scott had saved. But when they updated software on the device, the Governor's Office says all the records were lost.

The BlackBerry: While hunting for records on the iPad, investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement checked Scott's smartphone, too. The investigators said the phone's wireless signal had been turned off, which meant records would be safe. But investigators found the wireless signal had been activated. While 87 pages of content were retrieved, other messages had been cleared out of the phone.

Gov. Rick Scott e-mails 'cleaned out' from third source 10/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:35am]

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