Bellinger Dead in Alabama Hospital

Embattled Okaloosa County TDC Director Mark Bellinger died in an Alabama hospital this morning after being found in a car on a rural dirt road.

Authorities said he died of a suspected drug overdose.

He was found unconscious about 11:20 a.m. in a car on a dirt road in Pelham, Alabama, which is near Birmingham.

Paramedics were able to revive Bellinger but he died a short time later in a hospital.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, in conjunction with the Northwest Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force, had obtained an arrest warrant for Bellinger on Friday morning.

Sheriff's investigators allegedly developed information that Bellinger had used TDC funds to purchase a home in Destin.

The $747,000 home is located in the exclusive, gated Kelly Plantation neighborhood of Destin and was purchased in August of 2011. Information indicates that some of the funds used to purchase the home may have come from moneys provided by BP to the Tourist Development Council following the oil spill in 2010, according to the sheriff's office.

A search to locate Bellinger started Thursday afternoon after his wife returned to their home and found a suicide note, the sheriff's office said. His wife called authorities and said Bellinger and his car were missing.

Bellinger's vehicle was described as a 2011 Subaru Legacy four-door sedan, bearing Florida Tag 262NFS. Authorities did not initially indicate whether Bellinger was found inside his car in Alabama, or whether it was another car.

The Northwest Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force is comprised of members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the OCSO and investigates white collar fraud related to the Mortgage Industry.

Bellinger was a well-respected, well-liked, successful TDC director when, late last week, Okaloosa County received title for a 44-foot yacht that Bellinger bought using TDC money.

Bellinger appeared before the Okaloosa County Board on Tuesday and attempted to explain the purchase of the $710,000 yacht as a promotional campaign he had developed.

Records indicate Bellinger bought the boat from a Destin yacht broker in December and took delivery of it in January. The boat, which sleeps six and has staterooms with full baths, including showers, has been docked at the Marbella Yacht Club in Destin.

County board members initially attempted to fire Bellinger on the spot but opted instead to allow him to resign as of May 11.

On Thursday, county workers told NewsChannel 7 that Bellinger had turned in his keys, his cell phone and other job-related items and left. Later that day, his wife reported him missing.

Okaloosa County Sheriff's investigators launched an investigation into Bellinger's purchase of the yacht. He told commissioners he used county bed tax money to buy the vessel without telling anyone in the TDC or the county.

According to an invoice from a Tallahassee-based advertising and marketing firm used by the TDC, the Zimmerman Agency, the yacht was purchased as a " promotional package" which included giveaways, campaigns and contests.

"I purchased the boat at the end of December with the authority that was invested in me through the TDC ordinance, and the contract with the advertising agency that we have, which is Zimmerman" Bellinger said at Tuesday's commission meeting.

County commissioner Wayne Harris interrupted Bellinger and asked if he was authorized to buy a boat. Bellinger responded saying "not authorized to buy a boat, but a dollar amount."

City officials say Bellinger told them the yacht was only used twice, but did not know who was on-board, how many hours were put on it, or who paid for the gas or the captain.

The yacht is now considered county property. The county says it does not intend on keeping it and are exploring all of the legal options to get the bed tax money back and get rid of the boat.

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  • by David Location: Auburn,AL on May 8, 2012 at 05:20 AM
    It's doubtful that any other official were involved because The expenditure was cleaverly "hidden" under an invoice line item as promotional expense. No mention of a "boat". How can one jump to the unfounded conclusion that an associate commissioner [that recommend him for the job]is also a crook?
  • by David Location: Auburn, Alabama on May 7, 2012 at 06:14 AM
    So sad, indeed...This is a timeless lesson. We see similar reports of corruption on a daily basis world-wide. Given access to monies w/o oversight protection, will make the most honest of citizens say "Hmmmm" to themselves. Let's ensure that future expenditures are better scrutinized. It's not always the crook that sees an easy route to wealth; oftentimes it's the honest looking guy sitting next to you in church. He had gotten bitten by the bug & had no way out! Again, a tragedy that could have been prevented if a few checks-and-balances had been in place.
  • by larry Location: fort walto bch on May 5, 2012 at 08:08 PM
    okaloosa county commisioners signed off on these expenditures and eiher they were involved with this deception or they were derilicht in their reponsibilties. Now the commisioner that helped hire him is running for Tax Collector, he can have a field day with all that money.
  • by William Location: PCB on May 5, 2012 at 01:11 PM
    What a coward and a scum bag. He is a theif living well off the hard working people of OC and then kills himself to avoid facing them. Sell the Boat and the house, throw his wife out into the streets (your foolish if you think she didnt know what was going on)and try to higher someone honest to run the show.
    • reply
      by Lucas Phulot on May 5, 2012 at 06:12 PM in reply to William
      William please make sure you use spell check before posting a comment it makes you look dumb. Thank you
    • reply
      by Fred on May 13, 2012 at 06:33 AM in reply to William
      You seriously think this one man was able to pull off this elaborate scheme without inside and outside help? And what man kills himself in such a way as Bellinger appeared to have done. That is questionable too.
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