Okaloosa County's missing Tourist Development Council Director has been found, but it's not the ending many were hoping for. Mark Bellinger was found dead in Alabama Friday morning from a suspected drug overdose after being surrounded by controversy all week.
"We are extremely saddened that Mr. Bellinger took his life...we're sad for his family," Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
It all started on Monday, after 52 year old Bellinger admitted to the Okaloosa County Commission he used TDC funds to purchase a $710,000 yacht. Bellinger said he made the unauthorized purchase to promote tourism. One possibility Bellinger discussed - giving tourists a chance to win a ride on the yacht.
Commissioners were outraged, saying the purchase "displays a culture of extravagance, a culture of closed door dealing, and a culture of distrust." Members of the TDC council say they were never informed of the purchase and only found out when they received the title for the yacht in the mail.
Bellinger stepped down the next day. Then nvestigators with the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office learned Thursday he left his a suicide note at his home in Kelly Plantation in Destin and disappeared. That same day, investigators issued an arrest warrant for Bellinger after they gathered evidence indicating that Bellinger also stole BP grant money to pay for his $747,000 home.
Bellinger's was discovered Friday morning in Pellham,, a suburb south of Birmingham
Sheriff Ashley says the department was saddened by the developments, but he also says this is only the beginning of the investigation.
"Every expenditure...TDC bed tax dollars, TDC BP oil dollars...every expenditure will be examined," Sheriff Ashley said.
Governor Rick Scott approved a request on Friday to allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a forensic audit of the TDC.