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Sheriff's Office Confirms Investigation Into Chamber of Commerce's Finances

Daniel Prince

Acting board president states her resignation had nothing to do with the controversy

Following up on a story we first ran back on March 7, the Union County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday evening in a release that an investigation has been launched into the finances of the Union County Chamber of Commerce. On March 7, the Union County Sheriff’s Office was notified by board members of the Chamber of Commerce about irregularities in one of their accounts. Captain Scott Coffer was given documents regarding the account in question. The Union County Sheriff’s Office and SLED began an investigation on March 8. Coffer said the investigation is still active, and no other information will be released until the completion of the full investigation.

Back on Friday, March 4, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors held an emergency meeting, which they stated in a later Facebook post was to investigate what it called inconsistencies in the use of their funds. As a result of the meeting, the Chamber stated that Executive Director Stephanie Rhinehart was placed on administrative leave until the board could gather all of the facts and be in a position to determine exactly what was going on. Commenting on the post, Rhinehart stated the board had not told her she was on administrative leave and said that she was removed from the Chamber’s Facebook page and had her email account deleted. In its statement, the board also stated the acting president of the board had resigned prior to the meeting. According to the Chamber of Commerce’s website, the board president is Beth Lancaster. The statement noted that the organization is a 501(c)6 organization, which is nonprofit. It is not controlled or operated by a government entity. Funds originate primarily from its shareholders, as the businesses who join the Chamber pay dues. It is worth noting that the Chamber does receive government funding, with a $25,000 allocation in the county’s most recent budget and $40,000 in the city’s most recent budget.

In the time since we ran the original story, WBCU News has confirmed in an interview with former president Beth Lancaster that her exit from the board was due to her mother’s health, and her additional caregiving role along with helping to run her family’s business did not leave time for her role as Chamber president. She said the timing was unfortunate, but her exit was unrelated to the controversy. WBCU News spoke at length with Stephanie Rhinehart following her being placed on administrative leave, but on advice from her lawyer, she can only state publicly that she has no comment to these events at this time. WBCU News has been unable to get a statement from current Chamber Board president John Gregory. We will continue to follow the story and bring you more details as they become available.

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