In filing for bankruptcy last fall, a Bensenville-based general contractor admitted to owing approximately $30,000 in back taxes to the IRS-a fraction of the more than $500,000 he owed to approximately 60 people.

Bruce Schreiber’s creditors include three in Oak Park who say he cost them more than $300,000 combined.

The list of people Schreiber-through his business, MLE Construction Services-owed money stretches over nine pages of his filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court, and could represent a fraction of the money he truly owed.

Those to whom he owed money allege that Schreiber collected money from clients, but did not pass it on to the subcontractors he hired. That reportedly happened on three six-figure jobs in Oak Park before MLE went bust in October 2006.

People involved with Schreiber allege his business was a house of cards held together loosely by the lies they claim he told his many creditors.

“This guy could give lying lessons to the Clintons,” said David Will, of the 200 block of South Cuyler Avenue, who said he lost about $50,000 to MLE. Schreiber kept sending invoices for work completed on Will’s $180,000 renovation project, Will said. “I had paid Bruce for the work, and he hadn’t paid [subcontractors].”

In the bankruptcy filing, Schreiber showed that he owed Will just $10,000-the amount he had not collected on the contract. Schreiber listed the same amount as an asset-money due to him.

Schreiber did not return calls requesting comment made to his home address.

“I could fill your paper with a whole bunch of things,” said Rick Filarski, who owns the recently renovated commercial building at 126-38 Harrison St. that Schreiber worked on.

Filarski found out about Schreiber’s ruse when one of the subcontractors working on his building put a lien on his property after not getting paid. In the end, Filarski said he lost more than $100,000 to Schreiber’s walking off the job, not to mention the six-month delay it caused.

“And you’ve got gray hairs and everything else associated with it,” Filarski said. “It’s the kind of thing that people go to jail for all the time.”

Schreiber, though, will be protected by his bankruptcy filing. A judge found in February that MLE’s “costs of liquidation and administration would exceed the possible value of [its] assets.” The company’s assets included furnishings found to be worthless (fax machine, antique cash register, power tools) and “accounts receivable”-money he said was due him on the projects he had not completed.

Schreiber attested to drawing a salary of $4,000 a month from the company, and sources said Schreiber’s mother served as his receptionist.

‘I worked my rear end off’

“I can handle somebody going out of business, but it’s the lies” that are aggravating, said Jack Olsen, owner of Krumwiede Roofing. Krumwiede worked on the Filarski job on Harrison Street and was owed almost $15,000 from MLE, Olsen said.

“Bruce was just an avid liar,” Olsen said. “He duped me right down to the end when I went to his office and the door was locked.”

Olsen said that even Schreiber’s elderly mother said his payments were coming. “I feel bad I was so duped,” Olsen said. “Why would the lady lie to me?”

Dr. David Wold, a dentist in Bensenville who was the landlord for MLE’s office space, said the company owed 10 months of back rent, but did not want to comment further because he filed suit against MLE in DuPage County.

Terrence Hemstreet owns Hemstreet Door Specialists. He filed the lien against Filarski when Schreiber defaulted on payments of approximately $6,000 owed on the Harrison Street job. He eventually got all of his money.

“I’m a small business owner,” Hemstreet said. “Money like that I need for-for everything.”

Subcontractors are usually reluctant to put liens on jobs, Olsen said, because it’s expensive, time-consuming, and because payment usually comes. Also, a subcontractor could lose work in the future by upsetting a general contractor.

But Hemstreet said getting a lawyer was no trouble. “I worked my rear end off on that job” and wanted to be paid, he said.

Time is money

Some of the biggest losses to MLE clients were the delays caused when Schreiber disappeared, then filed for bankruptcy.

Will expected his expansion project to take two or three months. A year later, Schreiber walked off the job, and six months after that Will said the job is nearly finished. Whereas Schreiber had drawn all but $10,000 of the money owed him as part of the contract for the project, it cost $50,000 to finish the job, Will said.

On the Marion Street Mall, business partners Carol Buckantz and Erik Ruminski planned to open Moveable Gourmet last July. But Schreiber, the general contractor for the job, slowed his work, then disappeared last fall.

That’s when Buckantz and Ruminski-professional chefs-took on the job of general contractor themselves, all while launching a catering business. More than half of the job remained.

“This place was a vanilla box when [Schreiber] left,” Buckantz said from inside 118 N. Marion St., where Moveable Gourmet is expected to open within weeks.

She said they lost $160,000 in the ordeal. “It was all Erik’s and my savings.” The partners had to get loans and find additional personal funding to continue the project.

Buckantz echoed what other sources who knew Schreiber said, that he took her money but never paid subcontractors working on the job.

A rocky past

Cook County Circuit Court records show a handful of contract complaints filed against MLE Construction in 2000 through 2002.

In 2003, a man sued Schreiber and MLE Construction after being injured in an accident with the company’s uninsured vehicle, said Jordan Rifis, the man’s attorney. The man “had to file an uninsured motorist claim and accept a lot less money for the personal injury he suffered at the hands of Mr. Schreiber,” Rifis said.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office received two complaints about MLE Construction, but has not been able to contact Schreiber, a spokesperson said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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