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Elgin firm paying price for allegations against former owner

Singles ConstructiCompany employee Jose Lirrolls out ropatch rolocal business Wednesday morning Elgin.  September 12 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Singles Construction Company employee Jose Lira rolls out a roof patch on the roof of a local business Wednesday morning in Elgin. September 12, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:24AM

ELGIN — “A good name and a good price for over 50 years,” says the business card for Singles Construction Co.

But after working on some of the best-known buildings in the northern Fox Valley since 1958, the 15 employees at what used to be known as “Singles Roofing” are struggling to clear their name.

They fear customers will stop coming their way after the company’s owner — who no longer controls the firm or is involved in its day-to-day management — was charged with defrauding GAF, New Jersey-based materials supplier, to the tune of $1.8 million.

Now controlled by a bankruptcy court receivership, Singles is being managed on a day-to-day basis by former co-owner Chuck Karmalita. The company’s official owner and president, 56-year-old Robert Durchslag of Aurora, was indicted Aug. 16 by a federal grand jury on three counts of wire fraud. He was arrested in Chicago on Aug. 29 after being on the lam for two weeks, authorities said.

“It’s pretty clear to us that Durchslag was acting on his own and that he left a lot of good people here in the lurch,” said Robert Handler, managing partner of Chicago-based Commercial Recovery Associates, which was appointed by a federal bankruptcy court judge to take over Singles temporarily.

“We want people to know (Durchslag) is no longer involved in the business in any way,” said Jim Brindis, who now manages the company’s field operations.

Karmalita said Singles Roofing was founded in 1958 by a construction-industry veteran named Arnie Singles. Singles retired to Wisconsin, and on Jan. 1, 1981, “Irving Durchslag and I took over as co-owners,” said Karmalita, a 65-year-old Algonquin resident.

When Irving Durchslag retired (he died in 2008 at age 91), he handed over his half of the ownership to his son, Bob. Karmalita said he then sold his half back to the Durchslags, “because I could kind of see what could happen. I had known Bob going back to 1972, when he was just a teenager.”

But Karmalita kept working at the firm, and as far as the business was concerned, all went well for years.

The company roofed or reroofed such landmarks as the West Dundee Public Safety Center; the East Dundee Village Hall; the Bethlehem Lutheran churches in both Elgin and St. Charles; Alexander’s and Chili’s restaurants; and Villa Olivia Country Cub.

“After Bob took over, he even began taking on jobs all over the country,” Karmalita said. “We did all the Lifetime Fitness Centers, in places like St. Louis and Colorado and North Carolina.”

When Durchslag assured his unpaid roofing supplier, GAF, that he had landed a $2 billion contract to do work for NASA, according to the indictment, that must have sounded somewhat believable. But the contract was a total fabrication, prosecutors say. So was a forged letter from a bank investigator Durchslag gave to GAF, claiming that someone had embezzled $17.8 million out of Durchslag’s bank account.

Karmalita said the company’s fortunes reached a zenith in 2007. Singles then had 40 or 50 employees and 100 trucks.

But about four years ago, things began to turn sour as new construction came to a halt nationwide. In 2009, the indictment charges, Durchslag turned to illegal shenanigans to keep his supply of building materials coming without paying for it and conned GAF out of $1.8 million.

Brindis said he and other employees were working with Durchslag in the office on Friday, Aug. 17, when the front door buzzer sounded. The employees answered the door and found FBI agents who said they had a warrant for Durchslag’s arrest. But going back into the building, their boss had suddenly disappeared.

That was the last time anyone from Singles saw Bob Durchslag. It would be almost two weeks before the FBI found him a hotel on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, where he was arrested without incident.

“We don’t know if Bob is guilty or not,” Brindis said. “... But our work was never affected.”

He noted that even the fraud indictment claims only that Durchslag defrauded a company that supplied materials, not that he defrauded any customers who hired Singles.

Durchslag remains in custody at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, with his next court hearing set for Oct. 17.

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