FORT WALTON BEACH — Before the $710,000 yacht and the $747,000 home in Destin, former Okaloosa County TDC director Mark Bellinger had a Porsche.
It was a gray 2008 Porsche Cayman, paid for with a $48,000 check The Zimmerman Agency sent out Aug. 20, 2010 — just three months after Bellinger took the job.
He drove the car to work and told acquaintances he’d bought with his brother. He liked to take people to lunch in the two-seat sports car, and often offered to let them drive.
The Porsche, Zimmerman Agency owner Curtis Zimmerman said, showed Bellinger how easily he could steal from the county.
“In my opinion, that’s where Mark figured out he could go around the system,” Zimmerman said.
He said Bellinger came to him and told him he’d gotten a real good deal on a vehicle and he wanted to build a TDC promotion around it.
“I asked Mark what kind of vehicle he’d gotten and he said ‘a Porsche,’ ” Zimmerman said. “I said, ‘That makes no sense. A Porsche doesn’t fit the profile of our target audience, and a foreign-made vehicle won’t go over well in a military community.’ ”
Zimmerman also told Bellinger he wasn’t following proper purchasing procedures.
“We negotiate (a purchase) ahead of time,” Zimmerman said he told him.
Zimmerman said he was able to persuade Bellinger to rethink the promotion using the Porsche. Instead, a “World’s Greatest Soccer Mom” promotion in which a minivan was given away turned out to be a resounding success.
“He told us not to worry about the Porsche, that he was going to return the Porsche, get the money back and apply the money to the van,” Zimmerman said.
But Bellinger didn’t return the Porsche and get the money back.
What he did, eventually, was trade in the Porsche for a 2011 Subaru he drove right up until he killed himself May 4 in Alabama as the extent of his thefts from the county began to be uncovered.
Rick Brinkman, sales manager at Lee Subaru in Fort Walton Beach, remembered the Porsche-for-Subaru transaction, he said, “because the Sheriff’s Office was in here doing an investigation,” following Bellinger’s death.
Brinkman confirmed that Bellinger received cash back on his trade-in.
Documents obtained by the Daily News and validated through county records indicate Zimmerman wrote a check for $48,000 to Bill Dube Hyundai in Wilmington, Mass.
A bill of sale indicates the car actually was purchased Sept. 10, 2010.
An invoice with Bellinger’s name on it dated Aug. 31, 2010, indicates a $48,000 expenditure for a “prize for 2010-2011 Internet/Viral Video Contest” and contains the name Bill Dube beneath the description.
Okaloosa County Finance Director Gary Stanford provided a county invoice listing nearly identical to the one obtained by the newspaper.
Zimmerman said he thinks the ease with which Bellinger was able to slip his Porsche purchase past anyone with oversight emboldened him to continue stealing from the county.
His crimes were discovered in May after his purchase of a $710,000 yacht was questioned by county commissioners. Further investigation revealed he’d also used county funds to buy, among other things, his $747,000 home.“(Previous TDC director) Darrel Jones watched every penny. He was extremely cautious,” Zimmerman said. “I think the system the county had in place was set up for people like Darrel Jones, with ethics.
“Now you get a consummate liar, and he’s able to manipulate the system,” Zimmerman added. “The Porsche was when Mark figured out he could do."