Florida Lawmakers Request Probe into Misuse of BP Oil Spill Funds After Official Commits Suicide

Posted in Alabama Maritime News,Florida Maritime News,Gulf Coast,Maritime Law on May 7, 2012

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. — The former executive of the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council accused of misusing BP oil spill and county funds died at an Alabama hospital on Friday, May 4, from a suspected drug overdose.

Mark Bellinger accused of misusing BP oil spill and county funds to buy a yacht has died of suicide.

Mark Bellinger, 52, was found in Pelham, Ala. on Friday morning after a search was prompted by a suicide note found at his home.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said Bellinger was under investigation for using public funds to buy a $710,000 yacht and his $747,000 Destin home. An arrest warrant had been issued for theft in connection with Bellinger’s purchase of the house.

Two lawmakers from the panhandle, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott asking for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to join in the local investigation of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council.

A probe into the use of BP dollars from the BP oil spill fund is also being requested by the lawmakers in the wake of some of the accusations.

“Because these funds become public funds with public accountability when they are placed in the accounts of (tourist development councils) or local governments, it is our intention to work with our colleagues in the Legislature to initiate a review by the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee of the sources and uses of such BP payments subsequent to the oil spill,” both legislators wrote.

“We believe it is essential that such a forensic audit be undertaken immediately, in full cooperation with Sheriff Ashley,” they wrote. “It is critical to determine who knew what, and when.”

The original investigation of the yacht focused on the use of county bed tax funds, which Bellinger said were going to be used in a marketing plan, according to a report in the Pensacola News Journal. But investigators say at least a portion of the money to buy the house might have come from BP oil spill funds.

Okaloosa County’s airports director, Greg Donovan, was named Saturday as interim head of the Tourist Development Council.

Source: Sunshine State News

Maritime lawyer, Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P. works with Jones Act clients all along the Gulf Coast and throughout the nation. Our offshore injury attorneys put decades of combined legal experience and extensive resources to work for clients who pursue compensation for their injuries under the Jones Act. We are the leading offshore injury law firm representing victims of the BP, Transocean Deepwater Horizon disaster, along with assisting businesses and individuals that were damaged by the impact of the Gulf oil spill. Visit our Florida maritime lawyer page for more information about Florida maritime law