DESTIN, Fla. – A Florida Panhandle county's former tourism director was found dead of an apparent drug overdose Friday in Alabama, just days after he was accused of stealing taxpayer money to buy a $710,000 yacht, a sheriff said.
Mark Bellinger, 52, had gone missing Thursday and was found late Friday morning in his car, said Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley. Bellinger had been hired as tourism director in May 2010, just weeks after the BP oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico.
He acknowledged buying the yacht and resigned from the council Thursday.
Authorities said he left a suicide note at his Destin house; his wife called the sheriff's office after she found it.
Before coming to Okaloosa County, Bellinger had worked in a similar capacity in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff's office and a mortgage task force — which includes investigators from the FBI — said Friday that they are looking into whether Bellinger bought his home with money that BP gave the tourism council following the spill.
The $747,000, four-bedroom, three-bathroom home was purchased last August, according to property records. Ashley said state officials are conducting an audit.
Okaloosa County leaders were unaware of the yacht's purchase until recently, when the vessel's title paperwork was delivered in the mail. Bellinger then acknowledged that he bought the yacht.