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FDLE opens inquiry into former Hillsborough PTC chief's handling of public records

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched a preliminary inquiry into a former Public Transportation Commission chief's handling of public records less than three weeks after closing an investigation into whether his agency was too cozy with taxicab companies.

The new inquiry is expected to focus on whether public records were illegally deleted from Kyle Cockream's agency cellphone. A forensic investigator reported recently that the phone Cockream used for almost a year had recently been reset, a process that wipes it clean. FDLE officials said they had received information about the case from the PTC.

"We're looking at the new information," spokeswoman Jessica Carey said.

Cockream's phone was handed to a forensic investigator in November to extract public records, including text messages, requested in June by a Sarasota law firm. The firm sued the PTC in September for not fully complying with the request.

At a hearing last week, a judge gave Cockream five days to provide the investigator access to an online account that backs up phone records to see if he can retrieve missing data.

Cockream, who stepped down as PTC chief at the end of December, has yet to comply with the order, according to Hillsborough County attorneys who are representing the PTC in the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, Cockream's private attorney, Michael Carey, filed a motion asking the judge to overturn that decision or to at least give Cockream more time to comply.

The former PTC chief was not represented at the hearing and was deprived of his constitutional due process rights, the motion states. On Tuesday, he was added as a separate party to the lawsuit.

In a report included in a court filing, computer forensics firm E-Hounds CEO Adam Sharp stated that Cockream's agency phone was reset on Oct. 8 and then restored with no data from before Sept. 2.

An invoice shows the PTC paid $2,994 to Valrico firm Data Specialist Group for "Mobile Device Data Recovery." It lists Cockream as the customer and was paid on Oct. 12 with a PTC credit card. Cockream authorized the payment.

The invoice does not specify whose phone was given to Data Specialist or what work was performed.

Neither Cockream nor Carey returned calls requesting comment.

An earlier FDLE investigation into whether Cockream and the agency he led were too closely aligned with the taxicab and limo industry it regulates was closed Jan. 3. It was requested by state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, after a Tampa Bay Times story revealed that taxi and limo drivers posed as Uber and Lyft customers in PTC sting operations.

That FDLE investigation found no evidence that Cockream benefited from the collaboration or that any law had been broken.

"The issues above would better be suited to be reviewed by the Florida Commission on Ethics," the report stated.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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