Okaloosa lays out plans to recoup losses from Bellinger’s fraud

Kari C. Barlow | Northwest Florida Daily News

Okaloosa County hopes to recoup the money Mark Bellinger used to buy his home in Destin some time in March.

Bellinger, the former director of the Tourist Development Council, purchased the home illegally in August 2011 with $747,000 from a BP oil spill grant. He lived in the four-bedroom house in Kelly Plantation with his wife Kathy until his death in early May 2012.

The home was seized by the U.S. Marshal’s Office last summer and now is under contract to sell for $620,000.

“The way the process works with the federal government is they have contracts with outside brokers who attempt to arrive at a buyer for these properties,” said attorney Greg Stewart, special counsel to Okaloosa County.

Stewart on Tuesday presented county commissioners with a plan to “aggressively” pursue the recovery of some of the revenue Bellinger spent illegally and without authorization while he headed the TDC.

See presentation about TDC recovery efforts

Stewart said the county has filed a petition to receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the house minus maintenance and broker fees.

He said the county has contacted BP and the company has agreed that no refund is necessary as long as the money recovered is spent according to the oil spill grant’s intent.

In addition to the house, only two other items — a $48,000 2008 Porsche Cayman and $6,258 worth of furniture — are considered illegal purchases, Stewart told the board.

Not only were they purchased with public funds, they “went to a private person for a private person’s gain,” Stewart said.

The Porsche was one of Bellinger’s first thefts, occurring in August 2010, about three months after he was hired. He eventually traded it in for a Subaru sedan.

“And I believe there was a cash component. There was $6,000 in cash that ultimately went to him,” Stewart said.

The Subaru has been turned over to the county, which plans to take it to auction.

The county also has seized the furniture purchased with BP money and is deciding how to dispose of it.

“If we use it for alternative purposes, we will be obligated to refund BP,” Stewart said.

If the furniture is sold, the money would have to be used in accordance with the BP grant’s purpose.

Stewart also briefed the board on efforts to recover several of Bellinger’s unauthorized purchases. They include:

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.