Updated: Ex-UI band director sentenced over instrument theft

URBANA — The former director of the University of Illinois Bands has a felony conviction to follow him the rest of his life, after admitting to a Champaign County judge Tuesday that he stole musical instruments from the school.

Robert Rumbelow, 48, pleaded guilty before Judge Tom Difanis to a single count of felony theft accusing him of stealing instruments valued at more than $10,000 from the UI on June 25, 2012.

He was sentenced to two years of conditional discharge — a form of probation without the requirement of reporting to a probation officer.

After stopping at the probation office to give a DNA sample, as is required of all convicted felons, Rumbelow was planning to catch a plane back to Texas, according to his attorney, Mark Lipton of Champaign.

After talking to Rumbelow following the minutes long guilty plea, Lipton said his client did not want to say any more.

"He talked to the media through his former attorney, Dan Jackson. There is nothing we want to add at this point," said Lipton.

"There is potential for future litigation. We believe he has paid full restitution. We have reason to believe the UI disagrees with the earlier assessment," Lipton said.

Rumbelow resigned his position with the UI in August as part of an agreement in which he repaid the UI $87,600.

In September, the state's attorney's office charged Rumbelow with two counts of felony theft, punishable by a maximum three to seven years in prison, that allegedly occurred in June 2012.

One alleged the theft of four Selmer Paris contra alto clarinets, with a total value of $22,000, which were sold to a public school district in Nashville.

The second count — the one to which he pleaded guilty — was a more general allegation of the theft of more than 20 other kinds of clarinets, saxophones and trombones.

Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar said the behavior alleged in the first count was essentially covered by the second.

“There were a bunch of instruments that didn’t show up at The Music Shoppe, and he asked that they list their value at zero,” the prosecutor said. “Those are the others he appeared to have sold privately.”

Randy Wood, owner of The Music Shoppe in Champaign, said his business never purchased UI instruments from Rumbelow but did accept the university’s old instruments and gave the UI trade-in value for them. Rumbelow then applied the trade-in value to new instruments, Wood said of the long-time accepted business practice.

“We never paid anything for instruments,” Wood clarified. “Our end of it was perfectly legitimate.”

Lozar said in a criminal case, restitution is limited to out-of-pocket expenses that can be documented so it was agreed that it would not be an element of his sentence. Rumbelow was ordered to pay just routine court costs.

"They are free to and may choose to pursue him civilly," Lozar said of the UI.

Scott Rice, legal counsel for the university, said the UI is continuing to investigate Rumbelow and may do just that.

Rice and UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler were in court while Rumbelow pleaded guilty.

The UI's band program declined comment.

Archivist Scott Schwartz, director of the Sousa Archives, called it a "truly sad" episode for the UI's "exceptional" band program.

"Sousa and Mr. Harding would be rolling in their graves," Schwartz said, referring to composer John Philip Sousa and Albert A. Harding, the first director of university bands.

"People will look at it differently, and that's unfortunate. But you've got great people leading it right now, and they'll lead it to where it should always be, the best band in the country," he said.

Schwartz said there were signs that "something wasn't right" before Rumbelow's official resignation in August.

UI police had received a tip about Rumbelow's activities on June 17 and learned that UI auditors were also looking into the case after receiving a tip through the University Ethics Office in Springfield, according to police.

Schwartz's office gave a tour of the archives to Rumbelow's family on July 3, several days before Rumbelow was placed on leave by the university July 8.

"It's a very sad state of affairs," Schwartz said.

Rumbelow was hired by the UI in January 2010 to replace James Keene, who had been just the fourth director of university bands over nearly a century.

Linda Moorhouse is now acting director of bands.

News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.

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ddf1972 wrote on January 14, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Unbelievable-but this sort of malfeasance seems par for the course at UI these days.  As an alum I am beyond embarrassed.  When will it end?  Time for systemic culture change at UI and in Illinois.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on January 15, 2014 at 5:01 pm

It was the court system that decided to let him cop a plea, in exchange for a conditional discharge. UIUC probably had little to no influence on it, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets hit with a civil lawsuit.