Cockerham slapped with ethics charge

by Patrick Flanagan

Former Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Cockerham was charged with an ethics violation for receiving New Orleans Saints tickets from a consultant in 2013.

Former Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Cockerham has been charged with an ethics violation for receiving New Orleans Saints tickets from a consultant in 2013.

The Independent broke the Saints ticketgate story in February 2014 after discovering Rina Tikia — a consultant hired by the board in 2013 to oversee its selection of the school system’s group benefits plan — had attempted to grease the skids on the selection process by offering the tickets to at least two board members.

The issue eventually prompted an FBI inquiry and resulted in Tikia being charged in January with an ethics violation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. That charge was also extended to Cockerham this week, according to a release from the ethics board, which also revealed some discrepancies in the story Cockerham told The Independent in February 2014.

Cockerham’s original claim was that shortly before the board’s Oct. 2, 2013, selection of an insurance provider, he was approached by Tikia with an envelope containing two tickets to a Nov. 17 Saints game against the San Francisco 49ers. Cockerham told us at the time that he attempted to return the tickets to Tikia during the board’s special meeting on Oct. 22.

Here’s the comment Cockerham gave at the time of our original report:

When we voted to end the process, that night I brought the tickets with me and told her I couldn’t take this, but she made it very clear she wasn’t taking them back. I know it doesn’t look good, but I’d never been through this type of situation before, and at the time I didn’t realize what was going on, that she was trying to bribe me. Obviously that’s what she was trying to do. I have nothing to hide though, and I feel this needs to come out.

The ethics charges, however, tell a different story. From the charges, here’s a text message exchange between Cockerham and Tikia that happened around Aug. 9, 2013:

Cockerham: “Hey, this is mark, curious if u still have those saints tickets?”

Tikia: “So sorry! Gave them away last night since your weren’t sure ab going. Will let you know about future games! Have a great weekend.”

Cockerham: “No problem :)”

Shortly after that exchange, according to the charges, Tikia gave Cockerham two tickets to the Saints v. 49ers game, each valued at about $300.

In early February 2014, Cockerham told The Independent that he did not attend the game; it's unclear from the ethics charges what became of the tickets. If found to be in violation of the state's ethics laws, he can be fined an amount equal to the value of the tickets plus one-half.

Cockerham did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story. His attorney, Gary McGoffin, declined comment.

Full disclosure: In addition to Gary McGoffin also serving as The Independent's attorney, Cockerham himself became a subcontractor for one of IND Media Publisher Steve May's companies in December.