URBANA — The former director of University of Illinois Bands has resigned following a police investigation that concluded he sold thousands of dollars worth of university musical instruments and put the money in his bank account, officials said Thursday.
UI police said that Robert Rumbelow, a tenured music professor hired in 2010, sold more than $50,000 worth of old instruments to other schools and collectors between 2011 and 2013, including four clarinets valued at more than $5,000 apiece.
A UI audit also found questionable expenses totaling $3,364 on Rumbelow's "P-card," or purchasing card, a university-issued credit card, police said.
Rumbelow disputes the allegations, saying he never spent any of the money and sold the instruments to raise money for a feasibility study for a new band building to replace the program's aging facilities. He repaid the university more than $86,000 on Thursday when he resigned, according to his attorney, Dan Jackson.
Jackson said Rumbelow may have made some "bad judgments" but had no criminal intent.
"He raised money in a way that violated university policy, but the money that he gave to the university today was always supposed to go to the university," Jackson said Thursday. "He did not take any of that money, he did not spend any of that money. It was all there. It is now back to the university where he intended it to be all along."
Rumbelow hasn't been arrested. Detective James Carter said UI police have been investigating Rumbelow for what would amount to a felony theft charge, but the Champaign County state's attorney will decide whether to file charges.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said her office just received the extensive reports on Tuesday and Wednesday. Police gave Rumbelow a notice to appear in court on Sept. 24.
"We will review them and make a charging decision before then," Rietz said.
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler confirmed that Rumbelow had resigned Thursday but declined further comment, saying it was a personnel matter.
UI police received a tip about Rumbelow's activities on June 17 and learned that UI auditors were looking into the case after receiving a tip through the University Ethics Office in Springfield, said Sgt. Tom Geis.
"It was alleged he sold instruments that belonged to the band department and pocketed several thousand dollars from the unauthorized sale of university assets," Geis said.
Detective Carter met with UI auditors, who had already found a $22,000 check written to Rumbelow for the sale of four Selmer Paris contra alto clarinets, at $5,500 each, to the Metropolitan Nashville Public School District in Tennessee, Geis said. The Nashville district had confirmed the sale and serial numbers matched the clarinets from the UI, he said.
Auditors then found discrepancies in inventory lists Rumbelow had put together for a program with a local music store to trade old instruments and get credit toward newer instruments, Geis said. The band department's policy was that the instruments, which are state property, could only be traded, not sold, Carter said.
A total of 76 instruments appeared to be missing, including some that Rumbelow had reported as having "zero value," and among them were the four clarinets sold to the Nashville district, Geis said.
Jackson said the instruments were valued that way because they had no value to the band department.
Rumbelow admitted in a July 25 interview with Carter and UI auditors that he had sold most of the instruments on eBay and to a private collector interested in vintage instruments, Carter said. The four clarinets were made in 1953, and most of the others were more than 40 years old, Carter said.
"They're rare instruments and people really wanted to get their hands on those," he said.
Rumbelow told investigators that he was going to return the money by donating it to the band program for a feasibility study for a new band building, Carter said.
Carter said the bank statements seized from Rumbelow's home showed he had deposited the money into his personal banking accounts, split between a checking account and a money market account — one of them the same account his university paycheck went to.
"There was no separate account created for these funds he was claiming were going to be donated back into the band program," Carter said. "He basically commingled the funds, and there was no way to keep everything separate."
Jackson, however, said Rumbelow had no intention of keeping the money.
When he was hired, Rumbelow was directed to upgrade the programs' instruments, most of which were "obsolete and unusable," and raise money toward a new band building, Jackson said. The Harding Band Building hadn't been updated in "a long, long time" and is too small for the program's needs, he said.
"His analysis was that this was not a good reflection of a world-class university band and would make it hard to recruit top students, because they didn't have top equipment and top facilities," Jackson said.
He began using the trade-in program to upgrade the instruments, and then decided to try to sell instruments to raise money toward a new building, a project that had been on the table for quite some time, Jackson said. The first step was a feasibility study that would cost more than $100,000, he said.
Rumbelow began to line up corporate sponsors and solicit donations, and also started selling instruments privately on eBay and through other contacts, including to a Seattle collector, Jackson said.
"That was a mistake," Jackson said.
Rumbelow raised $55,578.46 by selling "obsolete" instruments, he said.
Jackson said Rumbelow didn't think it was unusual to put the money into his own bank account, as the university had used that procedure in the past, depositing money into his account to reimburse students for expenses during band trips.
Rumbelow never spent any of the money, Jackson said.
"His objective was to finish selling off the last few obsolete instruments and take that money and donate it in a lump sum back into the program as seed money for this feasibility study for a new building," he said.
Asked why Rumbelow hadn't done that yet, Jackson said because the donation was to be anonymous. Rumbelow wanted to do it all at once after all the instruments were sold.
"He realized it was a little bit awkward," he said.
He acknowledged Rumbelow made some "bad assumptions," but added, "he didn't keep anything secret. He had records of it all. The university has those records."
Jackson said Rumbelow wrote a check for more than $86,000 on Thursday and planned to pay another $1,600 today requested by the university.
"He asked them to put it into the band program, because that's where he intended it to go. They told him he doesn't get to make that choice," Jackson said.
Jackson said UI officials told him they would report to the state's attorney that Rumbelow had returned all the money and resigned, and that "they were satisfied with that."
"The state's attorney's job is to determine if there was anything criminal going on. Criminal requires criminal intent," Jackson said, and Rumbelow never intended to keep the money. "In our view, there hasn't been anything more than bad judgments and violations of university policy, for which he is very regretful. I think it was done with the best of intentions."
"He was a fully tenured professor at the University of Illinois making a pretty nice salary. I don't know what his incentive would be to mess around with a few thousand dollars and jeopardize his career."
Rumbelow earned $140,175 in 2012-13, according to the University of Illinois "gray book," an annual compilation of salaries approved by UI trustees.
Rumbelow was removed as director of bands and placed on leave in early July. Linda Moorhouse, UI professor of music since fall 2010, is now acting director of bands.
Professor Jeff Magee, interim head of the School of Music, referred questions to Kaler, the campus spokeswoman.
Rumbelow had been director of bands and professor of music since January 2010, and also conducted the Illinois Wind Symphony and worked with graduate student conductors. As director of bands he supervised all university bands, including the Marching Illini, led by Barry Houser.
The UI's audit report also concluded that Rumbelow used his P-card for several personal expenses, Carter said. They included brochures and flyers promoting an event he was involved in; the conversion of videotapes with family footage into DVDs; and painting and construction supplies.
The latter included a Shop-Vac, Kilz paint, putty, lumber and nails, Carter said. Rumbelow told investigators that he bought the supplies for the band program, but no one else was aware of that, Carter said. Typically, building repairs are handled by construction trades and others in UI Facilities and Services, he said.
"They would never have had to go to Lowe's and buy this stuff," he said.
Rumbelow's home was also being remodeled at the time, but police found no evidence that he was spending university money on the project, Carter said.
Rumbelow also purchased five speakers for $2,375 for a mobile sound system in the band building, but "nobody had ever seen it," Carter said. "I asked him what happened to it, and he said that it had fallen and it broke. ... Then he said he just threw it away."
Jackson said Rumbelow decided not to challenge each P-card allegation because it would have dragged out the process.
"He's obviously leaving the university. He's got to worry about what happens to his life in the future," Jackson said.
News-Gazette staff writer Mary Schenk contributed to this report.