|Published:||Sep 17, 2012 5:52 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Sep 17, 2012 5:52 PM EDT|
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - A Panhandle county commissioner was arrested on perjury charges Monday as part of an ongoing investigation into the misspending of tourism funds sent to the county after the massive 2010 BP oil spill.
Okaloosa County Commissioner James Campbell, 64, was booked into the county jail on charges of perjury and misconduct. Officials said he remained in jail Monday afternoon.
According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrest affidavit, the charges involve more than $10,000 he received from organizers of the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. Investigators say the longtime county commissioner was paid to recruit sponsors for the annual October festival but failed to report the money on annual ethics forms filed with the state. Some of the unreported payments came from money paid to the county by the oil giant as restitution for the spill.
Gov. Rick Scott suspended Campbell from his commissioner post because of the criminal charges.
Campbell and his attorney did not immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Campbell's arrest was part of a larger investigation into the county's spending of tourism money.
State and federal officials began investigating the county in May, when the county's tourism director killed himself after allegations surfaced that he misspent more than $1.4 million sent to the county after the oil spill. Investigators said Mark Bellinger, 52, spent $740,000 to buy his Destin home and $710,000 for a yacht that he said would be used to promote tourism.
Okaloosa County Administrator Jim Curry said the county is approving major changes to its procedures for distributing tourism funds.
"We've been very active since all this broke. We have lots and lots of changes underway including a complete rewriting of our tourist development ordinance," he said.
Investigators said Campbell, a county commissioner since 2004, had a longstanding agreement with the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. In 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011, the festival paid Campbell a percentage of the sponsorship money that he obtained. State ethics laws require elected officials to file a report each year listing income of more than $1,000. Authorities say Campbell did not list payments from the festival until he learned that he was under investigation and then filed amended forms reporting the various festival payments.
Campbell told investigators that his wife filed the annual reports and that he did not tell his wife about the festival payments because he wanted to use that money for hunting trips, according to the arrest report.
"He stated that he believed he filed the amended disclosure form after learning that he was potentially the target of a criminal investigation regarding his receipt of payments from the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival," an investigator wrote in Campbell's arrest affidavit.
Investigators say $2,500 Campbell received in 2010 came after the Tourist Development Council donated $10,000 to the mullet festival. The money came from BP grant funding and was approved by Bellinger. In 2011, Campbell received $2,000 after the council spent another $10,000 in oil spill funding to sponsor the festival.
It's not the first time the county has come under scrutiny for how it has used funding. The county's former sheriff was sentenced to federal prison in 2009 after he pleaded guilty to charges of using Homeland Security grant money to pay for expensive gifts for his girlfriend and Las Vegas gambling sprees.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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