According to Florida news outlets, former Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau Director Mark Bellinger was found dead in Alabama after he resigned from his job as Okaloosa, Florida County Tourism Director and after he admitted he spent more than $700,000 of tax money to buy a yacht. According to Florida news sources, Bellinger left a suicide note at his home, was reported missing by his wife, and later died of an apparent drug overdose. Those who knew Bellinger in the Eastern Sierra called him “outgoing, friendly and enthusiastic.”
Bellinger worked as director of the Mammoth Visitors Bureau from roughly 2000 through 2004 when he moved to Palm Springs to head up the Bureau of Tourism there. He took the job of Tourism Director in the Okaloosa, Florida area in 2010 just after the BP oil spills.
The Huffington Post reported that Bellinger had been accused of misuse of public funds sent by BP to compensate for the oil spill. Authorities alleged Bellinger bought his $747,000 home with the money and a $710,000 yacht. The Post reported that the 52-year-old Bellinger had admitted he used tax dollars to buy the yacht but claimed it was to be used for county tourism promotions. County commissioners were quoted as saying they knew nothing of these plans or the expenditure.
The same news report said Bellinger admitted he bought the yacht and then resigned from his position of director of the Tourism Council last week. The Post reported that the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and state attorney’s office had issued an arrest warrant related to the purchase of Bellinger’s home. They alleged he bought it with BP oil restitution funds.
Officials said Bellinger’s wife found his suicide note and called police. Officers found him in a car in Alabama. He later died at a nearby hospital. The Okaloosa County Sheriff is quoted as saying that Bellinger’s death would not end a complex investigation into the tourism council’s spending during Bellinger’s tenure.
Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley is quoted as saying that his white-collar crime task forcer would work with the FBI and state auditor to investigate expenditures of tax money.