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Missing South Carolina Lobbyist Turns Up Dead, Association Cash Still Missing

When I wrote about South Carolina Hospitality Association CEO Tom Sponseller earlier this week, I stuck to the facts and tried not to make any snide comments about lobbyists since this is a human being and his family is obviously hurting over his disappearance.

That said, it appears as though the Sponseller family will not be receiving any good news any time soon.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said in a news conference yesterday afternoon that Sponseller was found at the association's garage dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. "Although he has been found and everything indicates it was self-inflicted, the police department and our office is going to continue to investigate this until we can come up with as many answers as we can for the family and the public," he said.

Despite allegedly combing the parking garage where Sponseller's association-provided Mercedes was found with cadaver dogs, investigators did not come upon his body until early Tuesday morning when they found him behind a locked door used by employees on their smoke break.

Various sources have reported a suicide note left by Sponseller which investigators found in a locked drawer in his office. The details of the note have not been released, though the coroner mentioned to reporters Tuesday that the note contained a reference to the ongoing investigation into the association's questionable finances.

Despite his apparent suicide, supporters and outsiders alike have yet to point the finger at Sponseller when it comes to the federal investigation and the missing money that could be anywhere from $100,000 to $900,000. Anyone starting to see a very bizarre picture come together here?

According to most reports, the most likely suspect remains former association accounting director Rachel Duncan. Though Duncan has yet to be formally charged, sources say outside auditors have identified possible ways funds could be embezzled (or material weaknesses in internal control for the audit wonks out there) and Duncan is reportedly being foreclosed on. U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams has said agents began looking into the association's books months back but that Sponspeller had not been identified as a person of interest in the case.

As is, this remains a truly tragic story. We may never know what really happened to Tom Sponseller but something does not smell right here. By all accounts, he was a giving, caring, smart man who loved his family and loved his line of work.

From the Going Concern family to the family of Tom Sponseller, we are truly sorry for your loss and you are in our thoughts. We'll continue to follow the story as it unfolds.