The federal government has filed a civil lawsuit to seize the home of former Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Mark Bellinger.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pensacola Tuesday, seeks to seize the house on Stonebridge Road in Kelly Plantation at Destin. The F-B-I says Bellinger bought the house with 747-thousand dollars he stole from the T-D-C.
The money came from Okaloosa County's share of 30-million dollars in B-P settlement money.
Investigators say Bellinger engaged a sort of shell game, ordering the county's marketing firm Lewis Communication in Tallahassee to issue payment for an un-named marketing campaign. He allegedly told a Lewis executive they would be bidding against Zimmerman Agency out of Pensacola.
The Lewis executive said Bellinger told him Zimmerman had won the contract, and ordered him to wire the 747-thousand dollars to a "title account” at Wells Fargo Bank. Bellinger then used that money to buy the Kelly Plantation house.
When Bellinger disappeared on May 3rd he left a suicide note for his wife, Kathleen. “I am leaving you for I have been extremely deceptive to you and everyone the past two years. The house is not ours. It was paid for from TDC advertising funds and I alone asked that the funds be directed via wire transfer to the closing title office. No one had any idea to this! I lied to you about receiving a loan from a President of a local bank who I convinced you he was doing us a favor. He does not exist.”
The Bellinger suicide note went on to say, “I know you were growing suspicious of the longer than promised time frame I gave to you about not starting a loan until close this summer and that bank President (a fake friend of mine) was helping our financial situation by delaying the made up mortgage payments. The home belongs to the county, not me. I convinced you to sign the closing papers.
Bellinger resigned as T-D-C Executive Director May 1st, wrote the note on May 3rd, then disappeared. He died May 4th in Pelham, Alabama, of an apparent drug overdose.
Since then, county, state and federal investigators are continuing to check the T-D-C records for more unusual financial activity. They've uncovered purchases for a 710-thousand dollar fishing yacht, 2-custom motorcycles worth 110-thousand dollars, and a 2012 Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Durango truck worth almost 82-thousand dollars that were supposedly going to be use in marketing campaigns.
While none of these deals appear to be illegal, Bellinger made them without any approval from the T-D-C board or the Okaloosa County Commission.