The woman who is a person of interest in the case of money missing from the S.C. Hospitality Association has been in and out of financial trouble for the past five years, according to public documents.
The financial problems include a mortgage foreclosure, and more than $14,000 owed on a state income tax lien and unpaid credit card debt, according to documents filed at the Lexington County Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds.
Rachel Duncan, the Hospitality Association’s director of accounting and membership services, is a person of interest in an ongoing federal investigation into the missing money, multiple law enforcement officials have confirmed. The amount of money missing has been described as substantial. The officials declined to talk on the record because they are not authorized to speak about an investigation that has not officially been made public.
Duncan’s lawyer, Greg Harris, a Columbia defense attorney who specializes in federal, white collar criminal cases, declined to comment on his client’s finances or the federal investigation.
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The revelation of missing money at the association has deepened the mystery of the disappearance of its chief executive officer, Tom Sponseller. Sponseller’s wife reported him missing Saturday night to the Columbia Police Department.
The police department has not drawn links between the missing money and the missing man. Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott has said that his department was treating any federal investigation into missing money as one of many leads in its search for Sponseller.
Law enforcement has not said she is a person of interest in Sponseller’s disappearance.
It is not clear when Duncan, 41, of Lexington was hired to work at the Hospitality Association. Bob McAlister, a crisis communications consultant retained by the association, said he is uncertain. Duncan is one of four employees at the Columbia-based association.
The Hospitality Association represents nearly 2,000 hotel and restaurant owners in the state and has an annual budget of $500,000, McAlister said. Sponseller, 61, is its lobbyist.
The association has hired The Hobbs Group, a Columbia accounting firm, to audit its books, McAlister said. The forensic audit will be shared with the Columbia Police Department to aid in its search for Sponseller, he said.
McAlister declined to comment on the federal investigation.
Duncan’s personal financial troubles appear to date to when she and her husband failed to pay their 2007 state income taxes. The two owe $4,274 in unpaid taxes, interest and fees, according to a lien filed in August 2010 by the S.C. Department of Revenue against a house Duncan co-owns.
She and a woman took out a $105,839 mortgage to buy the Lexington County house in August 2007, according to the county’s Register of Deeds office. They defaulted on the loan, and a foreclosure was filed in January 2011, according to foreclosure documents.
Midland Funding LLC, a collection agency, also has a lien on the property for credit card debt, according to the documents.
Duncan owes nearly $10,000 in unpaid credit card debt, according to claims filed by a credit card company and by Midland Funding at the Lexington County Clerk of Court’s office.
In January 2011, a Lexington County judge ordered Duncan to pay $5,983 in unpaid credit card debt, interest and court fees, according to documents. The claim was filed by Midland Funding, the collection agency working on behalf of Chase Bank USA, which had issued Duncan a credit card.
It is for that debt that Midland Funding has filed a lien on the house that Duncan co-owns, documents show.
In October 2011, Duncan was ordered to pay $3,992 for unpaid credit card debt and court fees, according to a judgment in Lexington County. There is no documentation to show that she paid the money owed to Barclays Bank Delaware. There is no lien involving that money.
As for the search for Sponseller, the case enters its seventh day today.
Jennifer Timmons, a Columbia Police Department spokeswoman, said the department continues to follow all leads, including those called in to S.C. Crimestoppers. On Thursday, the department received a tip about a Sponseller sighting in Columbia but officers dispatched to the location confirmed the reported person was not Sponseller, she said.