By: Ryan Brennan
The accountant who was fired from the South Carolina Hospitality Association in February has admitted to embezzling $480,000 from the organization to fund her online gambling habit. The discovery of theft played a part in the suicide of the Association's director in February.
Rachel Duncan says she will plead guilty on Wednesday to federal charges of tax evasion and fraud.
Duncan admits that between 2009 and 2011 she transferred money from the Association by writing checks to herself and depositing them in a personal account.
She faces up to 23 years in prison and $350,000 in fines.
The 41-year-old attracted attention when the association's director, Tom Sponsellor, went missing in February.
Sponsellor's body was found in a storage room off an underground parking garage after a ten-day search. The coroner ruled he died from a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head.
A note was found in the former director's desk revealing that Duncan, with whom Sponsellor had a close relationship, had told him she stole the money to support an online gambling habit. The note expressed shock and disappointment that the theft had occurred on his watch.
Hospitality Association leaders says members should remain optimistic about the future despite the shadow the scandal has cast over the organization.
"Long term, it's a vibrant organization," Columbia Marriott General Manager Jason Reader said. Reader has been on the Board of Directors for the Hospitality Association for three years.
"We are talking about an individual and not an organization that was at fault. The organization itself is great. It has a great purpose and a great message," he said.
Reader also said the board has created a Financial Oversight Committee to ensure that a situation like this doesn't happen again. He says the association's future looks bright despite the negative publicity the organization has received.
"It's foolish to think it didn't impact it, but it's also foolish to think they ruined the entire organization," Reader said. "Typically good organizations, when bad things happen, they actually become stronger after the fact, and I think there will be no exception with this organization."
Reader says the benefits of being one of the 200 members of the association remain the same, and that this case should have no effect on their businesses.