A former Okaloosa County Tourist Development director under investigation for using BP oil funds to purchase his $747k home and bed tax dollars to purchase a $700k yacht is now missing, according to police.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is searching for Mark Bellinger after his wife found a suicide note in their Destin home Thursday and alerted police that her husband was missing.
Officials learned Bellinger purchased a yacht with public funds after the county's finance director received the title transfer for the boat in the mail on April 27. He was let go Tuesday, and the OCSO and Northwest Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force have a warrant out for his arrest.
"It wasn't really clear that a boat had been purchased," county spokesperson Kathy Newby told Fox10. "It said a 'yacht promotion campaign,' so everybody thought they were purchasing advertising. Nobody knew we were purchasing a boat until the title was received."
In an email to colleagues announcing his termination, Bellinger held that the 44-foot yacht was purchased to be used in promotion of tourism:
All financial procedures were followed. They conducted a full independent audit and there was no violations in regard to the intent on how the money was to be used and the reason for the County cutting a check. It was bad judgment on my part for purchasing a Yacht and a vessel for this type of campaign without having the TDC board and the BOCC approvals, and that is it!
An alarmed County administrator Jim Curry told the NWF Daily News that the yacht may not even be insured.
WJHG reports that Bellinger told city officials that the yacht was only used twice and that he didn't know "who was on-board, how many hours were put on it, or who paid for the gas or the captain."
Authorities also have reason to believe that Bellinger also used money provided by BP to the Tourist Development Council following the 2010 Gulf oil spill to buy his Destin home in August 2011.
In the immediate term, however, police are focused on locating the distraught former official, who acknowledged how serious the allegations are in his May 1 email: "[I] apologize for this for I am sure it will be newsworthy for some time."
“We are gravely concerned for his safety,” Undersheriff Don Adams told NWF Daily News. “Our one and only priority is Mark Bellinger’s personal safety.”
Bellinger's vehicle is also missing and is described as a 2011 Subaru Legacy 4 door sedan, bearing Florida Tag 262NFS. Anyone with information of Bellinger's location is asked to contact the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office at 850-651-7400.
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