Okaloosa County T-D-C Gets Grilled by Florida Legislature

Lawmakers are grilling the group trying to find out why no one realized T.D.C tax money was being used to buy expensive items never intended for the county.

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee spent three hours asking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were misspent by the former T>D.C Director. Mark Bellinger bought a Porsche, a yacht, and a luxury house using public money.

Two ad agencies were instructed to pay and then bill the county for the purchases. Ellen Wingard of Lewis Communications says she invoiced the county more than seven hundred thousand dollars, then wired the money to a bank account controlled by Bellinger.

State Representative Dan Raulerson asked the agency how that was possible. "And no one in your firm determined or verified the ownership of that particular bank account where you were sending 747,000 dollars. Is that what I heard you say?"

Ellen Wingard of Lewis Communications replied. "No, we did not. We had his email from the county that told us to do it and that you know that's what we did."
"Ok. Thank you."

State Senator Rob Bradley wanted to know how a Tallahassee ad firm, Zimmerman, got reimbursed after sending 48 thousand dollars to a north east Porsche dealer. "How it is that Zimmerman came about asking for 48,000 dollars from the county to buy Porsche?"

Richard Long of Zimmerman Advertising answered. "Ok, Mark Bellinger sent us the invoice from the dealer said I've already made a deal to purchase this Porsche. I need you guys to send a dealer check for the 48,000 and then turn around and bill the county for that 48,000 under the description of a viral marketing campaign."

Representative Matt Gaetz, who represents Okaloosa County in the Florida legislature finds the stories unbelievable. “It's just unbelievable that ad agencies or public officials or people that worked in financing departments were writing checks to pay for houses, Porsches, motorcycles and that never occurred to anyone that that might be wrong."

Reporter: "And you think that may have been a profit motive on their end?

Gaetz, "I think that ad agencies were certainly motivated to keep Mr. Bellinger happy and I think they were willing to do just about anything to make that occur."

Bellinger committed suicide last May after the purchases were disclosed.


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