On February 18, South Carolina Hospitality Association CEO Tom Sponseller was seen around noon at the association's offices in Columbia near the State House but has not been seen since. When Sponseller failed to show up to his grandson's Boy Scouts event at 2pm, Sponseller's wife was concerned. She and other family searched for him for several hours before contacting Columbia police.
Sponseller's association-provided Mercedes was discovered in his parking space at the association's parking garage, with no sign of the man who has led the South Carolina Hospitality Association for over 20 years.
That's creepy on its own but it turns out there seem to be a few dollars missing from the association's books. The State newspaper states law enforcement sources have identified more than $100,000 missing, though it could be as much as $900,000.
According to interim president Rick Erwin, the association has hired Columbia-based The Hobbs Group to begin a forensic audit into the association's sketchy finances. Accounting director Rachel Duncan has been named as a person of interest in the case, although she has not been charged with anything. “We have met with authorities on more than one occasion and we have provided them with all of the information we have about Mr. Sponseller and his disappearance,” said Duncan's lawyer Greg Harris.
Due to the unique nature of Sponseller's disappearance, the association has hired crisis communications consultant Bob McAlister to handle inquiries.
Who is Tom Sponseller? According to friends and associates, he's a “straightforward,” “very knowledgeable,” “helpful,” “trustworthy” and “accessible" kind of guy. Friends have asked outsiders to withhold judgment until the investigation has concluded.
As a lobbyist, Sponseller formed close relationships in the State House. However, that also means detractors have taken upon themselves to clutter up articles about his disappearance with low brow comments about his character based on his line of work.
A Facebook page has been started to help find Tom, those with information are invited to call South Carolina Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.