A year after losing his job coordinating shipments of direct-mail advertising at a printing plant in Swedesboro, Chris Pasquerello is angry.

It's not just because he hasn't found work. Or because he's paying bills with credit cards and worrying he'll lose his house.

It's because Pasquerello suspects he and hundreds of other employees were the victims of an insurance scam.

Worst of all, he says, is that their loss could be Canadian businessman Dean Topolinski's gain.

"There's millions of people suing him, so I don't know what's going to be left for us," Pasquerello said, speaking for his former coworkers. "At this point, I just want to see him in jail. He hurt a lot of people."

With the FBI investigating a break-in at the plant last fall, creditors lined up, and a Main Line millionaire saying Topolinski burned down his French Chateau mansion in a related fraud scheme, there already was no shortage of people pursuing the Montreal businessman, who bought struggling DGI Services in 2010 and promised to save it.

Now, more than 170 workers from the Gloucester County plant are preparing to join a class-action suit launched by DGI employees in California who say Topolinski shut the company down without giving the 60 days' notice required under worker-protection laws.

"If he gave proper notice, he would have to pay all these employees roughly a million dollars," said Woodbury lawyer Lewis Adler, who is representing the local workers.

"It's our contention that, just like the fire in the mansion he was involved in, [the break-in] was set up to deprive the employees of their proper compensation," Adler said.

DGI, a privately held company, has argued that it was exempt from the law because its closure stemmed from a halt in production after the Swedesboro plant was vandalized during a November 2011 break-in.

But in a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia federal court last month, real estate executive Jerald Batoff alleged that the break-in and damage were part of a larger scheme.

According to Batoff, Topolinski siphoned money from the ailing DGI to put a down payment on Batoff's mansion and to lease it until the deal closed.

Topolinski orchestrated a fire at the home in April to collect insurance, including a $5 million policy he had taken out on his personal belongings, Batoff alleged.

The DBI break-in was staged so Topolinski could collect on a different insurance policy, Batoff said in the suit. DGI's insurance company has put damage at the plant at $17 million.

Batoff's suit contains no evidence to support his allegations, and Radnor Township Fire Marshal Don Wood has declared the cause of the fire undetermined but not suspicious. Though he could not rule out arson, he had no conclusive evidence pointing to it, Wood said.

Michael S. Doluisio, Topolinski's attorney, did not respond to calls for comment last week but has described the suit as frivolous.

"It's a very inflammatory complaint which we won't dignify with a response," he told The Inquirer in November.

The Woolwich Township Police Department last week referred questions about the break-in to the FBI. The federal agency maintains a policy of not commenting on its investigations, although several people involved in the case say they have talked to FBI agents or seen them at the Swedesboro crime scene.

Arthur Rosen, Batoff's attorney, said last week that the allegations stem from an investigation into Topolinski by his law firm. He offered no details.

George Bunner, 52, former production and purchasing manager at the vandalized plant, said last week that he had been interviewed twice by the FBI about the alleged break-in. He told the bureau he thought it was an inside job.

"I think they wanted the business-interruption insurance, and they would sell off the assets and let us all go," Bunner said of Topolinski and his advisers.

The plant, in an industrial park near I-295, had been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With fewer jobs coming in, the decision had been made to go to a reduced schedule beginning the night of Nov. 12, 2011, Bunner said.

When workers showed up the next day, they found the plant's towering printers had been ripped apart by a forklift.

"The police were standing out front, and when you walked inside, the machines were just wrecked," Mary Nolan, who worked there for five years, said last week.

According to the police report, someone had entered through a side door propped open with an empty oil bottle. Also destroyed was computer equipment on which footage from plant surveillance cameras was stored.

"Whoever did this knew exactly where the computer was that backed up those cameras," Bunner said.

The information was on a desktop computer in the back of the information-technology office, "but the IT office is not labeled," he said. "There were a lot of things [the alleged intruders] knew that only a few people knew."

DGI reopened a short time later - Bunner said he managed to get one of the printers running the same day - but it was the beginning of the end.

Within a month, most of the plant's workers had finished their last shift. As they filed for unemployment and joined millions of other Americans looking for work, some began to look into their old boss, who had made a name for himself by investing in troubled businesses.

In 2009, a Toronto Star article described Topolinski as "a brash young entrepreneur with big ideas" who over two decades had invested in ventures ranging from an Ontario nightclub to the Canadian hockey equipment manufacturer Sher-Wood.

He made headlines in 2009 when he ordered a small Canadian auto-parts manufacturer he owned to halt deliveries to Chrysler when the company refused to pay a 250 percent markup. The auto giant has sued Topolinski and his partners in court, seeking $25 million on claims the dispute forced them to close four plants for nearly a week.

"It is the little guy standing up against the big guy for what is right," Topolinski told the Star.

His legal and financial troubles continue to mount. Since creditors forced DGI into bankruptcy proceedings last December, more than 300 claims totaling $42.7 million have been filed.

Joseph McCormick, a Haddonfield lawyer who is representing the creditors, said how much claimants might be reimbursed was uncertain. "There is a continuing process to identify and analyze potential assets," he said.

For now, the Swedesboro workers are still trying to get their lives back in order. Nolan was hopeful last week about a job she had applied for driving seniors to their appointments.

But nothing would keep her from pursuing Topolinski, she said.

"My goal is to get this guy in the public eye," she said. "He's a millionaire with deep pockets and good lawyers. I don't want him to get away with it."

Contact James Osborne
at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.