Former Hospitality Association accountant gets 30 months in prison

Rachel Duncan received a prison sentence of 30 months and a fine.

COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) - The former accountant of the South Carolina Hospitality Association who pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $500,000 from the group has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison.

Rachel Duncan of Lexington must also pay back a little more than $367,000 to the association, and more than $85,000 to the IRS.

Duncan pleaded guilty earlier this year to tax evasion and fraud. Her attorney says Duncan stole to support a decades-long gambling addiction. Duncan apologized for her actions in court Tuesday. She did not mention Sponseller during her apology in court.

"I am genuinely sorry for the damage I did to the Hospitality Association," she told U.S. Judge Joe Anderson. "I want to get my life back in order."

The investigation into the missing money came to light in February, when its founder and executive director, Tom Sponseller, vanished. Sponseller was found dead 10 days later in a parking garage attached to his downtown Columbia office building. The coroner ruled his death a suicide, and Sponseller left behind a three-page note describing Duncan's confession to stealing the money and how despondent he was over her betrayal.

Attorneys said in court Tuesday that Duncan embezzled the hospitality agency's money to feed her habit of gambling online in offshore casinos. Federal prosecutors agreed to a lesser sentence because of Duncan's cooperation with their investigation.

"She basically confessed the first day, first week or whatever, and it caused us to avoid a lot of the investigation," said U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday. "She also provided some information about the gambling operation she was involved in."

Duncan, who could have received up to 41 months in prison Tuesday, will be on supervised release for three years when her jail term ends. She must also take a mandatory life skills program.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)