Missing South Carolina CEO found dead from suicide www.privateofficer.com
COLUMBIA, SC Feb 29 2012 - The search for missing lobbyist Tom Sponseller is over and a suicide note found Tuesday references a federal investigation into the South Carolina Hospitality Association, of which he was president and CEO.
Ten days after he disappeared, Sponseller was found shot in the head in a room in a parking garage near the SCHA office in downtown Columbia. He was reported missing by family members on February 18 and last seen at the SCHA office around noon on that Saturday.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts on Tuesday afternoon said that all indications were that Sponseller, 61, shot himself in the head with a 9 millimeter gun. That gun was found locked in the room with Sponseller.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said investigators found Sponseller’s body around 10:45 a.m. behind two locked doors in a “room within a room” on the lower level of a parking garage located at 1122 Lady St. Scott described the room as an electrical room with telephone connections. He said it appeared the room was used as a smoking area because a lot of cigarettes were there.
Scott says investigators searched the office and parking garage on at least three different occasions: February 18, 19 and 25, but weren’t able to get into that room until Tuesday. Scott said cadaver dogs did not indicate anything was in that room and they had to get new keys made before they could access it.
The coroner said finding Sponseller before today would not have saved his life. “All indications are if he would have been found 15 minutes after this happened, it wouldn’t have made any difference for him,” said Watts.
Scott said a suicide note found Tuesday referenced an on-going federal investigation into the SCHA’s finances. The chief did not elaborate on the content of the note.
Federal agents said Monday that several hundred thousand dollars are missing from the SCHA. Agents said Sponseller was not a target of the missing money investigation.
Part of the investigation appears to involve the recent departure of Rachel Duncan from the staff of the SCHA.
Her attorneys say Duncan, who had been listed as director of accounting and membership services, is cooperating with the police investigation.
The South Carolina Hospitality Association released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
Statement by Rick Erwin, Board Chairman
Hospitality Association of South Carolina
“Our board and staff are profoundly saddened by the announcement of Tom Sponseller’s death. I do not have the words to convey the sadness of losing our leader and friend.
Utmost in our hearts and minds are Tom’s wife and family, who were his pride and joy. They came first in everything he did. Our prayers are with them in this tragic hour.
Professionally, Tom in many ways was the face of South Carolina’s $14 billion tourism industry. He guided our industry through good times and bad, quietly working for the good of every person employed in the industry.
The number of jobs he helped create in South Carolina through his work with the Legislature and many governors cannot be estimated. Suffice it to say South Carolina’s economy is stronger, and tourism’s future brighter, because of his dedication.”
Watts is assisting the Columbia Police Department with the investigation and will determine the exact cause of death at a later date.