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U of Ill. band program head quits amid probe

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHAMPAIGN – The official who oversaw the University of Illinois’ bands program resigned after it emerged that he sold tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of school instruments and put the money in personal bank accounts.

Robert Rumbelow, who had been the school’s director of bands since 2010, stepped down Thursday after writing a check to the school for $86,000. Rumbelow was expected to pay back another $1,600 Friday that the school said he still owed, his lawyer Dan Jackson said.

Police, who are investigating, say Rumbelow began selling the instruments in 2011 and that they continued into this year. They say he made sales on eBay and elsewhere and that a Tennessee school district was among his buyers.

“Seventy-six instruments appear to be missing and some of them on the inventory list were declared as having ‘zero value’ even though they were sold by Rumbelow using eBay and through other contacts,” university police Lt. Matt Myrick said in a statement, noting that Rumbelow compiled the list. “In one instance, four clarinets were sold for $5,500 each. The payment for these clarinets was in the form of a check made out to Rumbelow.”

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Friday that her office is still reviewing the police investigation and hasn’t filed any charges.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said that although Rumbelow repaid the money, that “won’t negate the possibility of charges, although it certainly is something to consider.” She declined to comment further about the matter.

Rumbelow couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but Jackson described him as an absent-minded professor type who made an innocent error in judgment with the best of intentions. He insisted that Rumbelow didn’t spend any of the money and that he sold the instruments because he was told when he was brought in to upgrade the band program that he’d have to raise the money himself for a feasibility study of what it would take to improve or replace the program’s facilities.

Jackson said Rumbelow “knew that he was going around the university to some extent” by selling the instruments, but didn’t know that selling them and keeping the money in his own accounts was a serious problem.

“He had the idea that he would get much better returns not trading them in, but to sell them, and develop funds,” Jackson said. “And he did that. But being a musician and not a lawyer or a businessman, he didn’t do that in a way that he would want to do again.”

“He was dedicated beyond good judgment, maybe,” the attorney said, adding that he’s optimistic that Rumbelow won’t be charged.

Rumbelow came to Illinois from Columbus State University in Georgia, where he worked 14 years and was director of wind ensemble activities. His role at Illinois, which came with a $140,000 salary last school year, was to oversee the program that includes all of the university’s bands and ensembles.

Police began investigating the matter after being contacted by the school’s audit office. The university was informed of the sales by someone who complained anonymously to the university’s ethics office.

Police allege that investigators found that almost $76,000 worth of instruments were sold or missing and that more than $10,000 worth of inappropriate expenses had been charged to Rumbelow’s university credit card.

Myrick said he wasn’t sure what those expenses were. Jackson said that at least some of them were for paint, lumber and other building supplies that Rumbelow used to spruce up the band program facilities.

Jackson said Rumbelow “knew that he was going around the university to some extent” by selling the instruments, but didn’t know that was a serious problem.

“He was dedicated beyond good judgment, maybe,” the attorney said, adding that he’s optimistic that Rumbelow won’t be charged.

Rietz said the fact that Rumbelow repaid the money “won’t negate the possibility of charges, although it certainly is something to consider.”

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmercerap

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