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      Coroner: Missing lobbyist committed suicide

      Tom Sponseller (provided)

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV)-- Missing businessman Tom Sponseller has been found dead in downtown Columbia.{} Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott made the announcement Tuesday.

      According to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts, Sponseller died from a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head.{} A 9 mm was found at the scene.

      Scott says a note was found in Sponseller's office which, in turn, led them to 1122 Lady Street where they eventually discovered the missing lobbyist's body.

      Investigators discovered Sponseller in a double enclosed room at the lower level of a parking garage located at 1122 Lady Street shortly before 11 o'clock Tuesday morning.

      Tom Sponseller, a Citadel grad, was last seen Feb. 18 at his office in Columbia.

      Chief Scott and Richland County Coroner Gary Watts responded to the scene.{} During a press conference Tuesday in Columbia, Scott says he felt sorry for what Sponseller's family had to endure.

      "Tom was a very good person to Columbia, he was very involved in our hospitality area. He was maybe the third person that I met when I became chief here who reached out to me," said Scott.

      It is not known if Sponseller's death is in any way connected to the investigation into several hundred thousand dollars missing from the South Carolina Hospitality Association.

      U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams told The Associated Press on Monday that agents began looking into the association's finances several months ago. Williams says that several hundred thousand dollars are missing from the group that lobbies for South Carolina's $14 billion tourism industry.

      The South Carolina Hospitality Association released this statement:

      "Our board and staff are profoundly saddened by the announcement of Tom Sponseller's death. I do not have the words to convey the sadness of losing our leader and friend.Utmost in our hearts and minds are Tom's wife and family, who were his pride and joy. They came first in everything he did. Our prayers are with them in this tragic hour.Professionally, Tom in many ways was the face of South Carolina's $14 billion tourism industry. He guided our industry through good times and bad, quietly working for the good of every person employed in the industry. The number of jobs he helped create in South Carolina through his work with the Legislature and many governors cannot be estimated. Suffice it to say South Carolina's economy is stronger, and tourism's future brighter, because of his dedication."

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