WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- About a week after Fontainebleau hotel heir Ben Novack Jr. was found dead by his wife, police in Miami Springs received a curious letter.
Unsigned, and written in Spanish, the letter asserted that both Ben Jr. and his mother, Bernice Novack, had been murdered as part of a plot by his wife to get his millions.
On Monday, the author of that anonymous letter was revealed, proving that blood is not always thicker than water.
One of Narcy Novack’s sisters, Letitia Toruno, wrote the letter. It described how Narcy Novack and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, were the “assassins” who arranged the killings.
Toruno’s name was mentioned by prosecutors during a pre-trial conference among the lawyers, before the jury was brought into the courtroom. It’s not clear how, or if, the letter will be presented for the jury.
But the letter, which was mailed to Miami Springs police because Toruno lives near the city, was sent to police in Rye Brook, N.Y., where Ben Novack Jr.’s body was found beaten and bound on July 12, 2009. At the time, Narcy and Ben Novack were staying at the Rye Town Hilton, handling an Amway convention he arranged as part of his business, Convention Concepts Unlimited.
Both Narcy Novack, 54, and her brother, Veliz, 58, are charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the murder-for-hire crime.
On Monday, Veliz took the witness stand in his own defense and, for more than three hours, denied every piece of evidence that prosecutors said linked him to the killings.
Veliz’s attorney, Lawrence Sheehan, tried unsuccessfully to let the jury hear Veliz’s version of what happened. The judge blocked Veliz from testifying about conversations he had with others, including May Abad, Narcy’s daughter.
In opening arguments at the trial’s start, Sheehan told jurors that he would show that Abad killed her stepfather, then framed it on her mother and uncle so that she could inherit the family fortune.
Veliz testified that his Nissan Pathfinder had been stolen after Ben Novack was murdered, that his cellphone and debit card were always in his vehicle, implying that someone else used his truck, phone and card to commit the crimes.
With the jury out of the room, Sheehan mentioned that his client wanted to testify that Abad kidnapped Veliz and kept him a prisoner in a basement for 18 days before letting him go, telling him that if he told anyone she was behind the murders she would kill Veliz and his grandchildren.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas told Sheehan that Veliz could not tell the jury anything that Abad or anyone else may have told him. He was, however, allowed to describe how he was allegedly kidnapped and held prisoner by Abad.
Abad, who has been in semi-witness protection, has denied any involvement with the crimes and has not been charged. Early in the trial, she told The Miami Herald that her mother and uncle were lying to save their own skins.
The two hit men, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, and three other accomplices, have already testified that Veliz hired them, and paid Garcia and Gonzalez $15,000 to bludgeon Novack Jr. and to cut out his eyes.
They also said that Narcy Novack, the only person to use her key card in the hotel room that morning, let them into their suite and encouraged the blood bath, handing them a pillow to muffle her husband’s screams.
Narcy, a former stripper from Ecuador, has seven siblings, including Veliz. The hit men also testified that other members of the family were involved in the plot, which included money laundering.
Veliz attempted to explain why he moved around thousands of dollars in and out of his bank accounts in the months following the killings. He said he withdrew $1,500, for example, to spend on one of his girlfriends. Another $3,000 was withdrawn to make repairs on his Porsche, and he said he gave his sister Narcy $6,500 to help her with her legal battle to retain control of her late husband’s estate.
Veliz also testified that he and another man drove to Naples in August 2009 to try to hunt down Abad because “I wanted to do the job the detectives didn’t do,’’ meaning catch the real killer.
He also commissioned another acquaintance to try to find Garcia, who killed both Ben Novack and his 86-year-old mother, Bernice, who was once married to Ben Novack Sr., builder of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
“I asked for his legs to be broken if he could find him,’’ Veliz said of Garcia.
Toruno’s letter, which was dismissed by police in Fort Lauderdale who were investigating Bernice Novack’s death, said that the family matriarch was stalked by the killers before she was found in the blood-drenched laundry room of her home. Her body was discovered in April 2009, three months before her son was killed.
“That night,” Toruno wrote, according to a police translation, “they went to [Bernice’s] house. The daughter-in-law had keys to the house and had to had taken the cellular or all communication as they beat her up ... like it appear like the perfect crime, that she [Narcy] is laughing that the Fort Lauderdale police didn’t describe her like an assassin.”
Police and the Broward County medical examiner considered the death an accident, saying Bernice Novack had slipped and fallen, cracking her skull, breaking her tooth and fracturing a finger. There were blood drippings all over her car and throughout the house.
They changed their ruling to homicide after Garcia confessed to beating her with a monkey wrench almost a year later.
Narcy Novack sat quietly in her bright orange prison jumpsuit on Monday, listening to her brother testify. Although he claimed prosecutors offered to release him if he would testify against his sister, Veliz has stood by her.
Novack’s attorney, Howard Tanner, told the judge Monday that his client does intend to testify, possibly by week’s end.