State Audit of Okaloosa County TDC

By: Drew Steele Email
By: Drew Steele Email

During his 2-years as TDC Director, Mark Bellinger used TDC and BP settlement money to buy an 800,000 dollar house in Kelly Plantation, a brand new SUV, a 48,000 dollar Porche, 40,000 dollars worth of furniture, 2 custom chopper motorcycles, and more.

He also committed the TDC to an expensive lease for office space in Destin. All without TDC or County Commission approval.

During a special meeting of the Okaloosa County Legislative Delegation Wednesday night, a state auditor said Bellinger was able to pull off these deals because of either of poor oversight procedures in-place, or because he had help.

"Well I think the auditor general's report very conclusively says that in Okaloosa County government we either had people who were complicit with criminal behavior or we had people who were so woefully incompetent that they don't need to be anywhere near public money again," said Rep. Matt Gaetz.

There were several items on Wednesday’s agenda to be discusses but perhaps the one that was most agreeable to everyone was the fact that more than one person needed to be held accountable for the county's mishaps.

What I was hoping to hear tonight was that the county government would take responsibility and say that the people who made these mistakes would be gone and there would be acknowledgment that laws were broken."

After they discovered Bellinger's embezzlement, Okaloosa County Commissioners enacted new TDC spending limits and oversight procedures, but Gaetz believes there should be more restrictions in-place to keep something like this from happening again.

"My hope is that the first bill that the legislature sends to the governor is ethics reform that includes state officials and local officials."

If Gaetz introduces a bill in the house, he may have a powerful ally in the senate, his father, Senate President Don Gaetz.

"We need to make sure that we don't have a repeat performance and i think as a member of the senate I have a responsibility to make sure they're kept on a short leash when it comes to public funds," said Don Gaetz.

Local, State, and Federal investigators are all examining the state audit to see if any other laws were broken. If so, more people could be charged.


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