Panhandle Tourism Official Spent $710K in Taxpayer Money on a Boat, Is Now Missing Dead

You think South Florida has the state's most corrupt local officials? Not all the time. The stink of corruption likes to settle itself evenly across this great state.

Mark Bellinger, the director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, resigned this week after the local sheriff's office announced an investigation into his purchase of a $710,000 boat with taxpayer money. Bellinger has now gone missing, and his wife discovered what seems to be a suicide note. Updated.

Bellinger used the county's bed tax funds and money from oil company BP to buy the 40-foot yacht in December. He did not seek approval to purchase the 2011 Marquis 420 SC and generally kept the purchase a secret. County officials finally found out about it when the county administrator received the title to the boat in the mail.

Bellinger said he planned to use the boat as part of a yearlong tourism campaign, but offered few details.

"I did put the cart before the horse," Bellinger told the county commission. "It was a mistake in judgment on my part."

He promptly resigned shortly after an investigation into the purchase was announced.

Earlier today, an arrest warrant was issued, but Bellinger has gone missing. His 2011 silver Subaru Legacy sedan with Florida license tag 262 NFS is also missing.

His wife notified police yesterday afternoon after she discovered a suicide note in their home.

Update: Bellinger's body was found in Alabama today. He was found in his car and appeared to have died of an apparent drug overdose.

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Kyle Munzenrieder