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Suicide threat: Official disappears after fraud allegations over yacht, home

Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office

Mark Bellinger, 52, former tourism official in Okaloosa county, Florida, left a suicide note and disappeared on Thursday after allegations surfaced about misuse of tax funds and money from BP to the county after the 2010 oil spill.

Florida authorities have issued an arrest warrant and initiated a nationwide search for a county tourism official who threatened suicide and disappeared after he was alleged to have used public funds to buy a 44-foot yacht and a home with combined value of more than $1.4 million, according to a report on nwfdailynews.com.

A warrant obtained late Thursday by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force calls for the arrest of Mark Bellinger, 52, the county’s tourist development council director, the report said.

Bellinger took on post in the immediate aftermath of the BP oil spill, and the nwfdailynews.com report said he was often praised for helping bolstering the industry in spite of the environmental disaster.

The warrant is related to allegations that Bellinger used money that came to the council from BP after the 2010 oil spill to buy a $747,000 home in Destin, Florida, the report said.  

Bellinger reportedly left a suicide note and then disappeared Thursday, two days after resigning from his position under pressure for using money from a bed tax — earmarked for advertising — to buy a $710,000 yacht, an earlier report on nwfdailynews.com said.

The county launched a probe into that purchase that it described in a press release as "unorthodox" and "secretive."

In questioning by county commissioners earlier in the week, Bellinger said the yacht, a 44-foot, 2011 Marquis 420 SC, was used to promote tourism.

"Our first priority remains his personal safety, but we are conducting a criminal investigation," county Undersheriff Don Adams said Friday, speaking to nwfdailynews.com about the search and arrest warrant.

Bellinger's car, a 2011 four-door silver Subaru Legacy with Florida license tag 262 NFS, is missing, the Sheriff's Office said. His name and photograph would be circulated nationwide, Adams said.

"If he has an encounter with law enforcement … they’ll know he’s wanted," Adams told nwfdailynews.com.

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