Friday, February 24, 2012
Tom Sponseller Disappearance Raises Troubling Questions
Federal authorities probing the disappearance of a South Carolina restaurant industry lobbyist say as much as $900,000 may be missing from the association he headed, the State newspaper reported Friday.
Tom Sponseller, president and CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association, was last seen Saturday at his office in Columbia. Law enforcement officials told the newspaper that Sponseller's accounting director, Rachel Duncan, 41, is a person of interest in the missing money investigation, though she has not been charged in the case.
Authorities told the newspaper more than $100,000 and possibly up to $900,000 is missing from the association's accounts.
A spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department declined to comment on the report. The FBI in Columbia, S.C., also refused comment, and would not confirm or deny its involvement in the case.
Court records show Duncan, who handled the association's financial accounts, is currently being foreclosed on. She also filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and has been charged three times with submitting fraudulent checks, though she does not appear to have served any prison time.
Bob McAlister, a spokesman for the association, would not comment on the reported allegations against Duncan or the investigation into Sponseller's whereabouts, referring all inquiries on the matter to law enforcement.
He’s a very dignified man," McAlister said of Sponseller. "He carried tremendous respect at the statehouse. He's a man that everybody trusted."
It’s rare that your see the entire political establishment in South Carolina come together for much of anything, but everybody shares deep concern for Tom and his family," he said.
Sponseller's disappearance has baffled investigators and spawned a prayer vigil that drew hundreds.
Since we don't know his whereabouts, we cannot rule out foul play at this time," Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons told FoxNews.com Wednesday.
Sponseller, 61, was reported missing on Saturday night by his wife after friends and family tried repeatedly to contact him by phone.
He was last seen by co-workers at around noon at his office in downtown Columbia. His car was found parked in a garage near the office and no signs of a struggle were evident.
A family friend who answered the door at Sponseller's home Friday said she does not believe the money investigation is related to his disappearance.
She [Duncan] is in big trouble," the woman said, "But I don’t think it has anything to do with Tom."
He is a straight up guy and he is probably the one that reported it missing," she said.
Sponseller is a Citadel graduate and a former Air Force officer, according to his biography on the South Carolina Hospitality Association's website.
He has been lobbying for the state's hospitality and tourism industry for more than 20 years. He is married and has three adult children, all of whom have worked in the hospitality industry, according to the bio.
Anyone with information is urged to call Midlands Crime Stoppers at (888) CRIME-SC of the Columbia Police Department at (803) 545-3500.