Federal authorities said today they are investigating several hundred thousand dollars missing from the group that lobbies for South Carolina’s tourism industry, as police search for the association’s missing chief executive.
U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams told The Associated Press that agents began looking into the South Carolina Hospitality Association’s finances several months ago. Williams said several hundred thousand dollars are missing from the group that lobbies for the state’s $14 billion tourism industry.
However, he said the missing executive, Tom Sponseller, was not a target of his agency’s investigation.
“This thing has taken on a life of its own,” Williams said. “There’s an active investigation at this point.”
Agents are combing the association’s books as the search for its president and chief executive stretches into a second week. Tom Sponseller was last seen Feb. 18 at his office in Columbia, reported missing by his wife after he didn’t respond to multiple messages and missed a family event.
Police have searched his office building and Mercedes sedan and reviewed Sponseller’s cell phone and bank records, but so far, investigators say they have no significant clues on the 61-year-old’s whereabouts.
Williams also said that, while Sponseller is not a target of his investigation, another association employee is. Williams said agents are investigating Rachel Duncan, who has served as the group’s finance director.
Williams would not give details on how or when agents began investigating Duncan, saying only that it had been going on for several months.
Duncan’s attorney, Greg Harris, declined to comment on the investigation or if Duncan still works for the association.
Rick Erwin, the association’s interim director, has hired an accounting firm to do an audit of its finances, according to Bob McAlister, a consultant for the group.
Read more in Tuesday’s edition of The State.