Bellinger Told Okaloosa County Officials Yacht Purchase Intention was 'Honorable'

By: Meagan O'Halloran Email
By: Meagan O'Halloran Email

It's what most people didn't see-- the last recorded footage of Mark Bellinger alive at last week's Okaloosa County Commission meeting trying to explain why he bought a luxury yacht with more than $710,000 in county bed-tax money.

Bellinger committed suicide three days later.

While federal, state, and local authorities are investigating Bellinger's activities, TDC officials are trying to get back to business.

It was an embarrassment for Okaloosa County. Former TDC Director Mark Bellinger spent $710,000 on a yacht over four months ago and the county didn't even know they owned it until the transfer title paper work showed up in the mail.

Last week, just days before Bellinger took his own life, he stood before county commissioners and resigned after the board voted down a motion to terminate him. It's the only explanation we'll ever get from Mark Bellinger--why he bought a yacht without telling the county or his TDC board.

"I sincerely apologize because I lost your trust, you know, just like that, my fault. I take the hit. The buck stops here with me; I've always said that. The intention was honorable, the intention was good. I tried to follow the process, that yes, you folks are probably going to change" said Bellinger before the board last Tuesday night.

The exposure may have been too much to handle. Bellinger committed suicide last Friday after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. That warrant accuses Bellinger of using some of the TDC's BP settlement money to buy an upscale home worth close to $800,000 in Destin.

"That's hard to get your arms around and everyone in the industry itself is trying to figure out what caused him to do this" said the county's Airport Director, Greg Donovan.

Donovan has been appointed Interim TDC Director to assist authorities investigating transactions made under Bellinger's watch. Changes in policy and procedure are likely coming, but in the meantime the county is taking some heat for an apparent lack in oversight.

"I think we have to scrutinize what happened very very carefully. People have a right to know going forward, to ensure something of this nature doesn't happen again, so that's part of our charge" said county official Jim Curry.


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