Okaloosa TDC probe expands

tdc file NWFDN
FILE PHOTO | Northwest Florida Daily News
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012 at 03:43 PM.

FORT WALTON BEACH — An extravagant county Christmas party and a public relations trip to Niagara Falls are among expenses state and local authorities are investigating as they try to unravel Mark Bellinger’s fraud scheme.

“We have met with the (state) Auditor General’s Office and have been provided with preliminary information regarding their investigation,” State Attorney Bill Eddins said. “Throughout the investigation, the office has issued subpoenas for a tremendous amount of records regarding purchases by the county.”

One of the more eye-popping discoveries appears to have been a county Christmas party last year.

“My recollection of the approximate cost of the Christmas party was in the vicinity of $40,000,” Eddins said.

Bellinger, the former director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, killed himself May 4 after it was revealed he had purchased a $710,000 yacht with county bed tax money.

Since then, the list of items he bought illegally or without county approval has grown to include a $740,000 home in Destin, a $48,000 Porsche, RVs, customized motorcycles and a building lease.

On the day of Bellinger’s death, as the extent of his spending of bed tax money and BP oil spill grants was coming to light, Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley requested authorization for an audit by the Florida Auditor General’s Office.

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