A woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $400,000 from the South Carolina Hospitality Association has been sentenced to 30 months in prison. Four months ago, the organization’s former accountant Rachel Duncan admitted taking the money from tourism lobbying group.
A federal judge on Tuesday also ordered Duncan to pay back the more than $367,000 she stole from the group over five years to support her online gambling addiction. The two-and-a-half year sentence will be followed by an additional three years of supervised release, including required treatment sessions for her addiction.
Federal prosecutors said they were satisfied with the sentence. “I think it’s very good, very fair,” Winston Holliday, who argued the case on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told reporters after Tuesday’s sentencing. Judge Joseph Anderson said he considered Duncan’s full cooperation with investigators when he ordered the punishment.
“I’ve considered this was not a crime of greed, but of addiction,” he said as he read the sentence.
Duncan pleaded guilty earlier this year to tax evasion and wire fraud. She apologized in court Tuesday, saying she was ashamed of breaking her co-workers’ trust. “I only hope they will be able to forgive me,” she told Judge Anderson. “I never meant for it to get out of control. I kept thinking I would hit the big one and be able to pay it back.”
Neither she nor her attorneys spoke to reporters afterwards.
Former Hospitality Association CEO Tom Sponseller committed suicide over the missing money in February. In a letter to Judge Anderson, his widow blamed Duncan for his death, “If she was not a thief – which she is – and had not stolen from the Hospitality Assoc., Tom would be alive today and thriving in an Assoc. that he worked so hard to build to what it is today,” Meg Sponseller wrote, according to The State newspaper.
But Anderson did not factor Sponseller’s death into his sentencing decision, at the request of prosecutors.
“(The suicide) was a precipitating event… but I don’t think Rachel would have foreseen that would be a result of her stealing the money,” Holliday said, “I didn’t think it would be appropriate to enhance her sentence because he decided to take that step.”
Investigators do not believe Sponseller was involved in the scheme, although he found out about the federal probe shortly before taking his own life. Duncan never mentioned his name in her apology.
Prosecutors had originally suspected Duncan embezzled an additional $100,000. That difference was due to commissions she had claimed for closing some deals. But Holliday said the only person who would have known whether or not those commissions were earned would have been Sponseller, making it very difficult for prosecutors to prove she took the money wrongfully.