Verdict sets off new free-for-all for Novack’s millions

One day after Narcy Novack’s conviction, attention turned to the estate of her slain husband, and who collects those millions.

06/21/2012 5:00 AM

06/21/2012 7:37 PM

As Narcy Novack peels potatoes in a federal prison, she could be cooking up another plan to get her hands on her slain husband’s millions.

Novack, who went from lap dancing in strip clubs to jet-setting with high rollers, on Wednesday was convicted, along with her brother, Cristobal Veliz, of engineering the grisly 2009 murders of her husband, Ben Novack, Jr., and his 86-year-old mother, Bernice Novack.

The denouement capped one chapter in the dizzying family saga, but opened another: a feud over who is entitled to the Novack family estate, estimated at about $10 million, not counting cash stashed in oversees bank accounts.

No one is wasting any time. Just hours after the verdict, Ben Novack’s adopted brother, Ronnie Marc Novack, filed suit contesting his will. His attorney, Harvey Morse, said Novack is in hiding because he believes that Narcy Novack may put a contract out on him from prison.

Also lining up their legal guns are Maxine Fiel, Bernice Novack’s sister; Fiel’s two daughters; three Novack cousins; Narcy’s daughter, May Abad; and Abad’s two sons.

And Narcy Novack, who was convicted on all counts except the felony murder of her husband, could also stake a claim, arguing that she is exempt from Florida’s Slayer Statute — which bars people from collecting an inheritance from those they kill — because she was technically acquitted of killing him. She was found guilty of plotting the death but not of carrying it out.

Ironically, it was the murder that no one originally believed was a murder that that the siblings were convicted of: the brutal beating of Ben Novack’s mother, who was married to Ben Novack Sr., builder of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. They were also convicted on more than a dozen other counts of racketeering, including aiding and abetting both crimes.

Ronnie Novack, the adopted son of Ben Novack Sr., for years wandered the streets as a homeless man after being cut out of his father’s will. But in 2008, he inherited a $7 million bounty from his late mother, Bella Novack — Ben Sr.’s first wife.

Morse, an international genealogist who is assisting lawyers representing various Novack family members, said now that the verdict is in, the real battle over the Novack millions will begin.

“Everyone waited for the verdict, and now the gates are open,” said Morse. “It’s like this big pot and everyone is trying to get their hands in.’’

Narcy’s criminal lawyer, Howard Tanner, declined to speculate on her chances of getting a share of the money, saying that’s between her and whatever civil attorney she chooses to hire.

Legal experts, however, suggested the widow, 55, will face an uphill battle if she decides to try to claim her husband’s fortune. Under his will, Novack left the bulk of his estate to her, but by law, she cannot collect a dime if it’s proven she had anything to do with his murder.

Frank Hollander, a Miami probate lawyer, said the burden of proof under the slayer statute is much lower than in a criminal case where conviction must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Even if she is guilty of participating in the murder, she would be excluded from the will,” Hollander said. Under the statute, it would be the legal equivalent of having predeceased her husband. In that event, Ben Novack Sr. bequeathed his estate to Patrick and Marchelo Gaffney, Abad’s sons.

Abad has already filed a claim to the estate on behalf of her sons, who are in their early 20s. Her attorney, Bill Crawford, declined comment Thursday.

The wild yarn has earned a place as one of the most bizarre murder cases in South Florida history.

It featured surprise breast implants (received by Narcy at Ben Jr.’s direction while she was under anesthesia for an unrelated procedure), extra-marital affairs, a tattooed porn star, sadomasochistic sex, a one-eyed hit man, the worlds’ second-largest Batman collection, an ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker, Vodou, baseball-sized balls of cocaine, amputee porn, a bungled police investigation and a hotel manager who happened to be the grandson of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.

The jury of eight men and four women returned the verdict after less than three days of deliberations. The trial, held in federal court in White Plains, N.Y., lasted nine weeks and included about 6,000 pages of testimony.

In the end, the panel apparently struggled with a robbery charge that was critical to convicting the defendants of the felony murder of Ben Novack. The indictment required proof of aggravated robbery to find them guilty of murder under New York law, which is where the crime happened.

The pair were, however, convicted in the felony murder of Bernice Novack, whose crime was charged under Florida law, since she was killed in Fort Lauderdale. It required proof of different aggravated circumstances.

The sinister plot began in April 2009, when Veliz, a 58-year-old Philadelphia tour bus driver, hired two Miami men to stalk and then attack Bernice Novack, a former model who, as queen of the Fontainebleau, once mingled with U.S. presidents, heads of state and Frank Sinatra. Despite her years, Bernice Novack was a spry, healthy woman. But on April 6, 2009, she was found sprawled in a pool of blood in the laundry room of her Fort Lauderdale home.

Fort Lauderdale police and the Broward County medical examiner called her death accidental, saying it probably stemmed from the lingering effects of a fall she had taken a week earlier in a bank parking lot. But three months later, her son was bludgeoned to death at the Rye Town Hilton, in Rye Brook, N.Y. Novack Jr., known a volatile businessman, went on to his own success after his father’s hotel empire crumbled. He ran a Fort Lauderdale-based company, Convention Concepts Unlimited, and was overseeing a meeting for one of his most prestigious clients, Amway International, at the time he was slain.

The creepy characters that were part of the Veliz Enterprise — prosecutors’ name for the circle of schemers — and the bloody plot they wove together, however, was about as organized as a plate of paella. Their missteps included using a broken down getaway car, putting each other’s phone numbers in their cell phones, getting chased away from a murder scene by a former Miami Dolphins linebacker, using credit cards to buy the murder weapons and getting caught on the hotel’s video surveillance cameras.

The two killers testified that Narcy Novack let them into the couple’s hotel suite, after which they pounded him with hand weights, and bound him with duct tape. During the throes of the assault, Narcy threw them a pillow to muffle her husband’s screams. Finally, she ordered the killers to gouge his eyes with a utility knife. He died of asphyxiation, choking on his own vomit.

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