S.C. embezzler gets less time after helping drug busts

COLUMBIA — A woman who admitted stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a South Carolina tourism group should spend less time in prison because of her help in drug cases, prosecutors said in court papers filed Friday.


Instead of 2½ years, Rachel Duncan should spend about 2 years in federal prison because she has given authorities tips that led to more than a half-dozen drug-related arrests in Richland and Lexington counties, Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday wrote.

Last month, Duncan, 42, was sentenced after admitting she embezzled nearly $400,000 from the South Carolina Hospitality Association. The group’s former director said in a suicide note that the crime drove him to take his own life.

Two weeks later, prosecutors said, Duncan called Richland County authorities to report that methamphetamine was being cooked in an area hotel.

Also in August, Duncan and her husband called authorities to report that methamphetamine was being distributed in Lexington County, prosecutors said. Two people were arrested in that case, prosecutors said.

Duncan has been free until she reports to prison later this year, and her attorney didn’t immediately return a message Friday.

Duncan was the accounting director for the association, which lobbies on behalf of South Carolina’s multibillion dollar tourism industry.

She pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud charges and was initially charged with stealing nearly $500,000 – but prosecutors said they could prove she had taken only just over $367,000, which she has been ordered to repay.

Duncan said she stole the money to support a decadeslong addiction to gambling. In addition to the drug cases, prosecutors have said that Duncan has also been helping them in an investigation into video gambling.

It was when executive director Tom Sponseller went missing earlier this year that a probe by federal authorities into the group’s finances came to light, revealing that an audit had shown $480,000 missing from the association’s coffers.

Authorities drew no link between Sponseller and the missing money. But 10 days after his February disappearance, Sponseller’s body was found in a locked room in the parking garage of his office building. Authorities determined that he had shot himself after investigators found a gun beside his body and the weapon’s packaging inside his locked office desk.

Authorities also discovered a three-page note, in which Sponseller described Duncan’s confession to stealing the money and how despondent he was over her betrayal and misdeeds, as they happened on his watch. Both prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. made it clear that they drew no direct link between Duncan’s actions and Sponseller’s death.