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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tom Sponseller found dead inside parking garage likely committed suicide,

Possible suicide: Tom Sponseller, 61, president and CEO of the SC Hospitality Association was found dead in the garage of his building this morning

well-known South Carolina restaurant industry lobbyist whose body was found Tuesday appears to have killed himself with a gunshot to the head, authorities said.

The body of Tom Sponseller, who disappeared more than a week ago, was discovered Tuesday morning by investigators inside a double enclosed room in the lower level of a parking garage near his office in Columbia, according to police.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said during a press conference that it appears Sponseller, president and CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association, suffered a "self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head." A weapon was recovered at the scene.

An official autopsy is under way as authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding his death, Watts said.

Scott said a note penned by Sponseller was also found Tuesday, though he declined to provide many details. The letter, discovered by Sponseller's co-workers, referenced a federal probe into missing funds at the association he headed.

Sponseller, 61, was last seen Feb. 18 at his office in downtown Columbia. He was reported missing by his wife later that night after friends and family tried repeatedly to contact him by phone.

Sponseller was last seen by his colleagues at around noon at the office. His Mercedes sedan was found parked in the garage near his office and no signs of a struggle were evident. His cellphone and wallet were missing.

Federal authorities investigating Sponseller's disappearance told the State newspaper last week that as much as $900,000 may be missing from the association.

Law enforcement officials reportedly said that Sponseller's accounting director, Rachel Duncan, 41, is a person of interest in the missing money investigation, which involves allegations of "gambling."

"Ms. Duncan has been interviewed, and she is a target of our financial crime investigation," U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams told the newspaper.

Duncan had no comment Friday when approached by Fox News outside her home in Lexington.

A family friend who answered the door at Sponseller's home last week said she did not believe the money investigation was related to his disappearance.

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.

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