Bucks victim had been $10 million in the hole

Law enforcement officers at the house in Hilltown Township where Joseph Canazaro, 48, was killed.
Law enforcement officers at the house in Hilltown Township where Joseph Canazaro, 48, was killed. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 23, 2013

Joseph Canazaro, who was killed Friday by two armed robbers inside his home in Hilltown Township, Bucks County, had a deeply troubled and complex financial history, and was about $10 million in debt when he filed for bankruptcy in 2008, according to court documents.

He owed money to banks and the government, and he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to several casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Biloxi, Miss., records show.

Two check-cashing agencies also alleged that he cashed faulty checks worth a total of $210,000, a matter eventually settled in Bankruptcy Court.

Authorities are examining Canazaro's financial history as part of their investigation, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said Monday, but he declined to comment further.

Heckler and Hilltown Township Police Chief Christopher Engelhart said over the weekend that they believed Canazaro's home was targeted for robbery by the men, who entered through a first-floor bedroom window. The officials declined to specify whether they believed Canazaro himself was a target.

Canazaro's girlfriend and 12-year-old son, who lived in the expansive home with him, were tied up during the attack, but managed to escape to a nearby business and call 911. Canazaro's 15-year-old son also lived in the house, but had left for school before the attack started, police said.

Police responded to the 911 call and found Canazaro dead in the home's garage.

Authorities were still searching Monday for the suspects, who police say took several guns from the house and drove off in a pickup truck taken from the home.

Heckler would not say whether any leads had resulted from what investigators have learned of the victim's finances.

According to records from Canazaro's 2008 Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, his mortgage debts to several banks totaled nearly $6 million.

He also owed more than $400,000 to the IRS for 2004 and 2005, and more than $36,000 in Pennsylvania state taxes for the same years. He was in arrears for nearly $11,000 in New Jersey state taxes, records show, and for $120,000 in real estate taxes for properties in Hatfield, Lansdale, and Chalfont.

And he owed more than $3 million to a kaleidoscopic range of groups and individuals: nearly $890,000 to the casinos; $108,000 to Allied Craftworkers Local 1 in Philadelphia; $359,000 to two individuals as a result of a lawsuit; and nearly $25,000 in credit-card debt.

Records show that Canazaro claimed $6,100 in combined monthly income for himself and his wife at the time, Valerie, while he was leasing a Mercedes-Benz for about $1,700 per month.

His personal-bankruptcy case was closed in 2010, discharging Canazaro of liability.

Canazaro settled two other cases in Bankruptcy Court, one in 2008, the other a year later.

In the 2009 case, two check-cashing agents claimed that Canazaro brought them checks to cash, one worth $150,000, the other $60,000. Both checks were written from Canz Construction & Management Inc., one of Canazaro's companies, to Jocanz Inc., another one. Both agents cashed the checks for Canazaro, but when they deposited the checks, they "bounced like rubber balls," according to Geoffrey B. Gompers, the lawyer who represented the check-cashing agents.

The men each settled with Canazaro later that year for a lump sum.

The other case involved Francis Mariano, who owned one of Canazaro's mortgages. In his complaint, Mariano alleged that Canazaro failed to pay back a $175,000 loan. That case was also resolved.

Gompers, Matthew Nahrgang - the lawyer who represented Mariano - and Walter Weir, one of Canazaro's attorneys in the bankruptcy case, all said Monday that they had not yet been contacted by police.

Weir said of his former client, "My recollection is that he was a wonderful guy. It's a tragedy that he was murdered in the way he was murdered."


Contact Chris Palmer

at 609-217-8305 or cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @cs_palmer.

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