Former Florida tourism director found dead near Pelham
Published 5:00 pm Friday, May 4, 2012
FROM STAFF REPORTS
The body of the former director of the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council was located in a vehicle off Ballantrae Club Drive in Pelham at about 11:45 a.m. on May 4.
Mark Bellinger, 52, of 4384 Stonebridge Road in Destin, Fla., had been facing a charge of grand theft by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the agency in connection with bed tax and possibly BP monies believed stolen from the TDC.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office had launched an investigation into Bellinger’s financial dealings on May 3, after learning Bellinger had admitted to Okaloosa County commissioners he made the unauthorized purchased of a $710,000 yacht with TDC funds.
On the afternoon of May 3, investigators learned Bellinger had left a suicide note at his home and disappeared, prompting an extensive search, according to a press release from the Okaloosa County, Fla., Sheriff’s Department.
An arrest warrant was issued May 3 after OCSO investigators gathered probable cause that Bellinger had stolen public funds to pay for his $747,000 Destin home, according to the release.
A local search to locate Bellinger was unsuccessful, but authorities were able to determine that he may be in the Pelham area at about 11 a.m. on May 4.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on the scene and discovered Bellinger’s body at 11:47 a.m. The Pelham Fire Department and the Shelby County coroner’s office also responded to the scene.
Bellinger died of an apparent drug overdose, according to the OCSO press release.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into Bellinger’s financial dealings as TDC director will continue. The Florida Auditor General’s Office will be assisting.