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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Presumed Suicide of "Storage Wars" Character Mark Balelo

     The one thing truly real about "reality" TV is that the character/actors on these shows can have complicated and troubled lives off-camera. This may have been true for Mark Balelo, a 40-year-old Simi Valley auctioneer who appeared regularly on A& E's "Storage Wars." The series features a team of auctioneers who travel around southern California selling off the contents of reclaimed storage units. The handful of regular buyers who bid for the unseen locker contents comprise the stars of the show. These regular bidders each play to their assigned character roles featuring a lot of false bravado and fake trash-talking. Each week they compete with each other to see who profits most from their blind purchases. (They also compete for screen time.) The show has become so popular there have been spin-off series set in Texas and other venues. (Dave Hester, a former "Storage Wars" star, recently sued the show. According to the plaintiff, producers salt the storage units with valuables to make the episodes more exciting.)

     Mark Balelo, born in Portugal, came to America from Brazil at age fourteen. He lived in Simi Valley where he owned and operated a gaming store called The Game Exchange. In 2011, Balelo opened his auction house, Balelo, Inc. That year, as the character "Rico Suave," Balelo, who'd show up at auction sites carrying a bag filled with $50,000 in cash, began bidding against the show's stars. In 2011, Balelo made his "Storage Wars" mark when he purchased a $1 million Superman comic book that had been missing from the actor Nicolas Cage's collection for ten years. Balelo returned the 1938 Action Comics edition to its former owner.

     Through the reality TV show, Balelo developed a larger-than-life persona of  the high-rolling, playboy/entrepreneur. He promoted this phony image on his Facebook page with statements like: "I fly private planes, race cars, and love going to Las Vegas and put on a show. I own several businesses and participate in many TV shows including "Storage Wars." I am currently working on a new reality show of my own."

     In 2011, at the height of his "Storage Wars" notoriety, Balelo served 45 days in the Ventura County Jail after violating the terms of his 2010 probated sentence stemming from a 2009 drug conviction. He had been caught transporting a gun he had acquired pursuant to a storage unit purchase.

     On Saturday, February 9, 2013, the Simi Valley police arrested Mark Balelo for being under the influence of a controlled substance, and the possession of methamphetamine. On Sunday, after making bail, Balelo asked his fiancee to come to his office. According to his girlfriend, Balelo was so distraught over his drug arrest he was afraid that if he were left alone he'd harm himself. After they talked awhile in the auction house office, Balelo took a nap. When he awoke he said he felt a lot better. His fiancee, no longer worried about him, went home.

     On Monday morning, February 11, 2013, an auction house employee found Mark Balelo slumped in his car parked inside the company garage. The engine was running, and Balelo was not breathing. According to the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office, Mark Balelo had died of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and exhaust fumes.

     On February 19, 2013, the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office officially declared Mark Balelo's death a suicide. 

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