TAMPA — With a criminal investigation hanging over him, former Public Transportation Commission chief Kyle Cockream repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment during a deposition Monday into whether public records were deleted from agency cell phones.
A judge ordered Cockream to appear at the deposition as part of a public records lawsuit filed against the agency that regulates for-hire transportation in Hillsborough County. He turned up, but on advice from his attorney Michael Carey, refused to answer questions from Andrea Mogensen, a Sarasota lawyer who sued the PTC to obtain copies of text messages that Cockream sent to owners of taxicab and limousine-rental firms.
"He pled the Fifth to basically every question that I asked," Mogensen said. "Obviously that's very disappointing. Our objective is to recover the public records."
The Fifth Amendment privilege allows a witness to decline to answer questions if the answers might incriminate him. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has opened a criminal investigation into whether PTC officials deliberately deleted public records, a misdemeanor under state law.
A forensic investigator hired to extract text messages for the public records lawsuit found that seven agency phones and Cockream's personal cell phone were reset on Oct. 8, a process that wipes 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."
Cockream, who stepped down as executive director in December, could not be reached for comment. In a recent hearing, his attorney said Cockream was not trying to hide records but hired the tech firm to back up the data on the phones.
The mising data may shed light on a controversial period during which the PTC was accused of colluding with the cab industry against the rideshare companies Uber and Lyft.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.