03/26/2012 : CEO KILLS HIMSELF OVER ACCOUNTANT'S FRAUD
Finance woman stole almost half a million dollars to go online gambling
The State newspaper in South Carolina reports the tragic suicide of a chief executive distraught over his accountant's plundering of company funds to go internet gambling.
Ten days after being reported as missing, Tom Sponseller's body was discovered in a storage room off an underground parking area.
Sponseller was the CEO of the S.C. Hospitality Association, and left a letter naming Rachel Duncan, the Association’s former director of finance and membership records as the person responsible for stealing a large sum of money from the trade body. The letter has since been authenticated as Sponseller's handwriting.
Sponseller, who said he was shamed and disappointed that the theft had occurred on his watch, wrote that Duncan had transferred over $300,000 of the trade association's money through her personal checking account to offshore accounts to pay for online gambling.
He wrote that Duncan had shocked him with her confession, as he had trusted her for 11 years and had never suspected that she was a gambler, let alone a thief.
Neither Duncan nor her attorney would comment when approached by The State.
However, the U.S. Secret Service has said that Duncan, who has not been charged, is a target of an investigation which may or may not concern online gambling. However, the Service has not responded to questions as to whether Sponseller was suspected in any online gambling or receiving any Hospitality Association money.
Bill Nettles, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, also would not comment. “This is an ongoing investigation,” he said.
The S.C. Hospitality Association, a trade group that represents the state’s hotels and restaurants, has reported that an audit of its financial records found $480,000 missing between 2009 and 2012. The audit is ongoing, said Bob McAlister, a communications consultant hired by the association.
The auditors determined that Duncan was responsible for taking the money, and the Hospitality Association is turning the audit findings over to the Secret Service.
Association officials have said there is no “direct evidence” that Sponseller took money, but they said he should have known money had gone missing.
In Sponseller’s letter, he wrote that Duncan confessed to him on February 16 — two days before he shot himself — that she had taken “upwards of $300,000” over the past four or five years. He also wrote that Duncan told him law enforcement officials had visited her two weeks earlier to confront her with their accusations.
“Rachel has told me she is going to cooperate in any way to minimize or avoid jail,” he wrote.
Sponseller’s letter was discovered when Hospitality Association employees opened his locked desk drawer while the search for their chief executive continued. They also found empty packaging for a 9mm handgun, prompting police to conduct a thorough search of the building, leading to the discovery of Sponseller's body.
According to Sponseller’s letter, Duncan thought she could get her money back.
“She also led me to believe (there) might be a chance to recover some of her gambling funds from the online casino where she played,” he wrote.
Sponseller also suggested insurance policies could be found in Duncan’s office that would cover some of the Hospitality Association’s losses, but Association officials said those policies would cover about $20,000, less than 5 percent of what has been reported missing.