“Gambling” allegations are central to an ongoing federal investigation into several hundred thousand dollars in money that is missing from the South Carolina Hospitality Association, a top federal law enforcement official said Monday.
That investigation is centered on an employee of the association, Rachel Duncan, the association’s accountant, said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams.
“Ms. Duncan has been interviewed, and she is a target of our financial crime investigation,” Williams said. He declined to elaborate on what kind of gambling allegations are involved.
Greg Harris, a lawyer for Duncan, declined comment.
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Williams said the Secret Service is not actively involved in investigating the disappearance of Duncan’s boss, prominent State House lobbyist Tom Sponseller, who vanished without a trace from the association’s offices while working on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Sponseller’s Mercedes sedan was found in his office building’s underground garage. His wallet and cellphone have not been located.
The disappearance of Sponseller, a friend to many top South Carolina public officials and a key player in legislation involving the state’s $14 billion-a-year tourism industry, has sparked wide interest around the state.
The Columbia Police Department is investigating Sponseller’s disappearance, and the Secret Service is sharing information with the police that might be helpful, Williams said.
“Our investigation strictly deals with a financial matter, but information is being shared,” he said.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said Monday his officers continue to search for Sponseller and have several people they want to interview in connection with his disappearance. He would not comment specifically on the Secret Service investigation but said his department was communicating with other agencies.
Williams said “it’s unknown at this time” whether the Secret Service’s investigation of Duncan and the missing money is connected to Sponseller’s disappearance.
“We are still in the midst of unraveling this investigation as we speak,” Williams said. “Again, the investigation initially started out as a financial-crimes type of investigation.”
Williams said the Secret Service began investigating Duncan two months ago.
He declined to say whether anyone besides Duncan is a target of the Secret Service investigation. “We have no comment with regards to any other potential targets of the investigation.”
Asked if the missing Sponseller was a target of the Secret Service investigation, Williams said: “He was not the initial target of the investigation, and it’s still too early to comment any further at this point.”
Williams declined to elaborate on how his agency became involved in its investigation of Duncan or how it learned about the association’s missing money.
Although the Secret Service is best known for providing security to the president and conducting counterfeit investigations, it also investigates bank fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and online gambling.
“Any type of activity involving money we investigate,” said Williams. “We protect the integrity of the U.S. Treasury.”
Williams said the allegations involving Duncan are not unusual matters for his agency to investigate. “What makes this a focus of interest is that it involves a missing person,” he said.
Last week, the Hospitality Association hired its own accountant to examine the association’s books.