An epic family murder saga ended Monday when Narcy Novack, wife of Fontainebleau hotel heir Ben Novack Jr., was sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
Three years after she and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, planned and helped execute Ben Novack and his mother, Bernice, the convicted killers, who had remained loyal to each other throughout the trial, made it clear their family ties would not extend to prison.
Veliz also received a life sentence during the federal court proceeding in White Plains, N.Y.
Each blamed the other for masterminding the murders, and their lawyers each asked the judge for leniency, claiming they were less culpable because the other sibling had pulled the strings.
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U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas was not swayed. He called the crimes “vile.”
Novack, 56, a former Hialeah stripper, was convicted of 12 of the 13 counts against her; her brother was convicted on 14 of 15 counts. Both were acquitted of felony murder, which in a federal case requires the victim to be robbed as well as killed.
Novack did not attend the sentencing, but listened to her fate on a speaker in a room adjacent to the courtroom. Karas called her absence “a final act of cowardice,” according to those in the courtroom.
Novack, who ordered the hit men to cut out her husband’s eyes, now will see little more than the inside of a federal prison. She will spend her days in a prison jumpsuit and sneakers and sleep on a jail cot. Known as a late riser, Novack will be forced up at the crack of dawn each day to do chores, like washing floors and scrubbing toilets.
Her new life will be far cry from her jet-setting days of drinking champagne and having servants do her cooking and cleaning.
With her conviction, she loses all rights to the bounty she hoped to claim after the murders. While she was designated as the sole beneficiary of Ben Novack’s estimated $10 million estate, under Florida’s Slayer Statute she now forfeits everything. Karas also ordered that her personal assets be seized.
“She lived a life of privilege,” Karas said of Novack. “If she had a marriage she wasn’t happy with . . . she could have gotten a divorce.”
Novack, and her brother, 59, both natives of Ecuador, were convicted in June of plotting the July 12, 2009, killing of her husband, 53, son of the late Ben Novack Sr., who built Miami Beach’s storied Fontainebleau hotel. Narcy Novack believed that her husband was going to leave her for another woman and that she would be left with a fraction of his wealth.
Under Ben Novack Jr.’s will, his mother, had she lived, would have been appointed as curator of his estate and received $200,000 in cash plus $2,500 per month. Though Narcy Novack would receive the balance — and the bulk — of her husband’s property and money, Bernice Novack, 86, as curator, would have exercised great control over the purse strings. She probably would have made life difficult for her daughter-in-law, whom she once accused of trying to poison her.
Novack’s attorney, Howard Tanner, argued that his client should be sentenced to 27 years instead of life, claiming that her brother planned the murders. As he did during the trial, Veliz claimed that Narcy’s daughter, May Abad, engineered the killings, an allegation that prosecutors dismissed years ago. With her mother now convicted, Abad’s two grown sons are designated to inherit the estate.
However, a long list of Novack family members are contesting Ben Novack’s will, including his first cousin, Andrea Hissom Wynn, 48, who last year married Las Vegas hotel billionaire Steve Wynn, 69. Hissom, who was divorced, is the daughter of the late Arlene Novack, Ben Novack Sr.’s niece. Her father, Victor Danenza, was an international financier who fled to France in 1976 amid an FBI probe into stock fraud.
Other family members contesting the will: Hissom’s brother, Joseph Danenza; and first cousins Gerald Brezner, Meredith Fiel and Lisa Fiel. Maxine Fiel, Bernice’s sister, and Ronald Novack, Novack Sr.’s adopted son, are also part of the lawsuit, which is winding its way through probate court in Broward County.
In sentencing Narcy Novack and Veliz, Karas spoke about a letter he received from Doug Reynolds, one of Bernice Novack’s neighbors.
Reynolds pointed out that if Novack received just 27 years, as her lawyer suggested, she would conceivably be released in her mid-80s, or about the same age Bernice Novack was when her life was taken. Karas agreed that it would be an injustice if Bernice Novack’s killers lived out their lives in freedom when Bernice could not.
“Think the best part of the whole thing is that Bernice got justice,” said Rye Brook detective Terence Wilson, the lead investigator, adding: “The devil got her due.”
Tanner said afterward that his client still maintains her innocence and is likely to appeal.
Novack, who has been jailed since her arrest in 2010, is acclimating herself to prison, he said.
“Prison is not a happy place, nor should it be,” Tanner said. “Now she has a life sentence, it will set in.”
Among those in the packed courtroom Monday were several jurors who were part of the eight-week trial. They told reporters that they felt Novack and Veliz got what they deserved.
The bloodshed began on April 5, 2009, when two hit men hired by the siblings drove to Bernice Novack’s home at 2737 NE 37th St. in Fort Lauderdale. One of the hit men, Alejandro Garcia, said he hid next to Bernice Novack’s garage. As it grew dark, Novack, clad in a nightgown, came out of her house and pulled her car into the garage. Garcia followed her inside, and as she began to step out of her vehicle, he clubbed her on the head with a monkey wrench. As she screamed, he continued to beat her in the face.
“The plan was to hit her in the teeth and give her a good beating,” Garcia testified during trial.
Garcia then fled, leaving the Novack matriarch sprawled in the front seat of her car. She managed to pull herself out of the vehicle and get inside her house, where she tried to clean up the blood. But she collapsed and died in the laundry room. Her son found her body the next morning, drenched in blood with blood smeared in her car, the garage and throughout the house.
An autopsy showed that her teeth were broken, along with a finger, and that her skull was cracked. Fort Lauderdale police and the Broward medical examiner, however, ruled the death an accident, theorizing that she died from a fall.
Believing that they had gotten away with one murder, Narcy and her brother then focused on getting her husband out of the way. In addition to his $10 million estate, they intended to take control of his company, Convention Concepts Unlimited, which reportedly grossed $50 million a year.
On July 12, Garcia and another hired accomplice, Joel Gonzalez, were driven to Rye Brook, N.Y., a wealthy Westchester County suburb, where Ben Novack was organizing a convention at the Hilton Rye Town hotel for his largest client, Amway International. That morning, after working most of the night, Ben Novack climbed into bed about 6:30 a.m. to get a few hours of rest. About 7 a.m., Narcy Novack opened the door to their suite, and Garcia and Gonzalez entered.
She motioned toward the bedroom where her husband was sleeping, and the two thugs began pounding him with hand weights, as he screamed and tried to fight back. Narcy Novack became alarmed by her husband’s cries and gave the killers a pillow to muffle his shouting. They then bound his arms and legs with duct tape and wrapped his mouth so tightly with the tape that he choked on his own vomit.
Garcia said that Novack then told him finish the job by gouging out her husband’s eyes with a utility knife, purportedly the last act of a wife who had endured years of her husband’s sexual perversions and infidelities.
His lover, Rebecca Bliss, a onetime porn star, claimed that she had met Novack on a website and that at the time of his murder, the two had fallen in love and that she believed he was going to leave his wife. Ben Novack had set her up in a comfortable apartment in Fort Lauderdale, bought her furniture and sound equipment, and paid for her to have lavish spa treatments. He also bought her a puppy.
Narcy Novack discovered the affair and, in January 2009, she tracked Bliss down and offered her $10,000 to stop seeing her husband. When she refused, Narcy Novack called Bliss’ landlady and informed her that Bliss’ rent would no longer be paid by Ben Novack because he was dead. The landlady didn’t buy the story.
Her husband continued the affair and Novack enlisted her brother to plan the murders.
After her husband’s death, she cleaned out his safe deposit boxes and began to liquidate some of their assets. During her initial interrogation by police, she flunked a polygraph test.
The investigation soon led New York detectives to Garcia and Gonzalez, who lived in Miami. Garcia was paid $600 to beat Bernice Novack and $15,000 to kill Ben Novack Jr. Gonzalez received $3,500. Both confessed and testified against the siblings during trial.
Prosecutors detailed for jurors a long trail of bank and credit card receipts, cellphone records, wire transfers and a damaging video from an ATM showing Veliz withdrawing cash en route to New York with the killers following him.
Novack’s and Veliz’s attorneys argued that the hit men were lying to save their own skins.
Garcia and Gonzalez will be sentenced at a later date. As part of their arrangement with prosecutors, the judge will be asked to consider their cooperation at their sentencing.