Investigators called it “Narcy’s secret phone.”
That secret phone, prosecutors say, was used by Narcy Novack to help plan and execute the murders of her husband, Ben Novack, Jr., and his mother, Bernice Novack in 2009.
In closing arguments during her murder trial Tuesday, prosecutors detailed how that phone, and others, were traced to cell phone towers that left a trail of signals from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Rye Brook, N.Y., an upscale little hamlet nestled just north of Manhattan in Westchester County.
It was in a hotel there, on July 12, 2009, that Ben Novack’s corpse was found next to his blood-soaked bed. He was hogtied, gagged and his eyes were slit.
Cell phones, which operate on signals from towers, were also used by her brother, Cristobal Veliz, who prosecutors say was using various phones in the months, weeks and days before the murders to communicate with the people they hired to commit the murders.
At 6:39 a.m. the morning Ben Novack Jr. was killed, a cell phone tower near the Hilton Rye Town hotel received a ping from the secret phone, showing a call to another phone, which was a few miles away in Port Chester.
The call, according to prosecutors, was made to her brother, whose cell phone was traced to Port Chester, where he and the killers were “waiting for the signal.” The call lasted one minute and 41 seconds. Veliz turned to the killers and told them it was time.
At Veliz’s direction, the two men, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, headed to the hotel in another car, driven by Veliz’s son-in-law, Denis Ramirez. At about the same time, at 6:54 a.m. phone records show that Ben Novack received a call from a hotel manager, who had been helping to mange the overbooked Amway convention Novack was holding at the hotel.
Minutes later, as her husband lay sleeping, prosecutors say Narcy Novack opened their hotel room door and let the two killers in. Armed with hand weights, they pounded at him for 17 minutes, then cleaned themselves up and left him for dead.
The only thing they left behind was a piece of Garcia’s sunglasses, a morsel of evidence that would later prove fruitful for detectives.
Narcy Novack, who watched as her husband screamed in terror, handed them a pillow to silence him, then walked from the fourth-floor suite down to the convention breakfast on the first floor, where she was seen by her daughter, May Abad, and other convention planners, prosecutors say.
At 7:45 a.m. she returned to her room, and her husband’s body. Her key card was the only one used between 12:07 a.m. and 7:45 that morning.
Veliz, who last week testified in his own defense, claims he was nowhere near Rye Brook when Novack was slain. But prosecutors say his cell phone records, bank records, credit card receipts, an ATM video and the testimony of the killers tell a different story. The killers testified earlier that Veliz had been talking to his sister, who wanted her husband and mother-in-law assaulted so brutally that they would be rendered helpless and she could take over her husband’s company — and his wealth.
Novack Jr. was the son of Ben Novack Sr., builder of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. After his father lost the hotel to bankruptcy, Novack Jr. began his own successful business, which grossed millions of dollars a year — much of it in cash.
Narcy Novack, a former Hialeah stripper born in Ecuador, had a stormy marriage with her husband, who had bizarre sex fetishes and was also having an affair with a tattooed porn star named Rebecca Bliss.
Fearing her husband would leave her, Narcy Novack and her brother hatched the plot, authorities say, paying a string of unsavory characters, friends and relatives to help.
At one point, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember described the conspirators as “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight,” pointing out that the killers walked right past the hotel’s security cameras. Veliz and the hired hit men left a trail of breadcrumbs that led them to everyone -- except Narcy Novack.
The break in the case came after Novack’s neighbor on Del Mar Place in Fort Lauderdale told police about a phone that Narcy had given her to use to call her sick mother overseas. Narcy allegedly told the neighbor that that phone, which ended in “2089,” was a secret phone that her husband didn’t know about.
Rye Brook and Westchester County detectives subsequently found that there were hundreds of calls between phones that Veliz used and the secret phone, from early April, when Bernice Novack was killed, through her husband’s murder on July 12.
Cell phone towers pinpoint the calls to Fort Lauderdale, in Bernice Novack’s neighborhood, on the evening of April 5, when the killers ambushed the family matriarch in the garage of her home and beat her in the face with a monkey wrench.
Cell phone records, as well as the hit men, detailed their movements, driving around, casing Bernice Novack’s house in the weeks before she was killed. Veliz also received and made phone calls to the secret phone.
Both Veliz and Novack’s defense attorneys, who are expected to argue their case Wednesday before the jury, contend that the phones were not used by Veliz and Novack — and that even if Narcy Novack did call her brother, it doesn’t mean she planned any murders.
But the timing and location of the calls are certainly suspect , Dember said.
At 4:42 a.m. on the morning of her husband’s murder, a call between the secret phone and Veliz was picked up on cell towers near Rye Brook. The call, which lasted 44 minutes, was well before dawn.
“What other reason could Narcy Novack have been speaking to her brother that morning, except to talk about what was going to happen,” Dember said.
Veliz, 58, and Novack, 55, both face felony murder charges in connection with the crimes. If convicted they could face up to life in prison. The trial, which began April 23, is nearing an end with closings expected to conclude Wednesday. Jury deliberations may begin Thursday or Friday.