Hospitality Association launches audit as search for missing executive continues

A missing-person poster for Tom Sponseller, 61, is seen on Gervais Street in the Vista in Columbia. Sponseller was last seen in his office on Feb. 18.



COLUMBIA — As police continue to follow up on tips about the missing president of the South Carolina Hospitality Association, a consultant said Friday the group had launched an audit of its finances.

Interim president Rick Erwin ordered the audit to assure the association’s 2,000 members that their financial contributions are secure, Bob McAlister, a consultant hired by the group, told The Associated Press.

“That will answer some questions,” Bob McAlister, a consultant for the association, told The Associated Press. “Once the audit is completed, it will be turned over to the proper authorities.”

Erwin is standing in for Tom Sponseller, the association’s president and chief executive officer who was last seen Feb. 18 as he worked at his office in downtown Columbia. His wife reported the 61-year-old missing that night after he didn’t respond to multiple messages on his cellphone and missed a planned gathering with family members.

In the days since, authorities combed Sponseller’s office building, where his Mercedes Benz was found. They’ve reviewed his cellphone and bank records, but police say that so far, they’ve learned nothing new.

While that work continues, McAlister said Erwin wanted the association’s members to know they would be cared for in Sponseller’s absence.

“All of the monies and contributions from here forward are 100 percent secure,” McAlister said. “(Erwin) is doing whatever it takes to assure the membership that the association has been strong and will remain strong and that all of the funds forward are secure.”

Officers are now relying on and wading through tips being phoned in by the public. On Thursday, officers chased down an errant report that Sponseller had been spotted in Columbia, according to police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons.

Timmons would not comment on if any signals from Sponseller’s cellphone had been tracked or if there had been activity on his bank accounts since his disappearance.

Sponseller, head of the association for more than 20 years, is a well-known fixture at the Statehouse, representing the tourism industry. On Tuesday, lawmakers held a moment of silence to pray for his safe return.

Helen Hill, the executive director of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the disappearance cast a shadow over a recent Greenville tourism conference that Sponseller would have been expected to attend.

“We are very concerned and distraught,” Hill said. “We hope the police department does a good job.”

According to the Hospitality Association, Sponseller grew up in Greenville, is a graduate of The Citadel and is married with three adult children



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