It was one of those “gotcha” moments that prosecutors savor: the moment that they catch a witness in a lie.
After spending three days insisting that he had nothing to do with the plot to kill Ben and Bernice Novack, Cristobal Veliz got caught — in vivid color, on video.
There he was, withdrawing $200 at 6:18 a.m. from an ATM machine in Jessup, Maryland. It was on July 9, 2009, three days before Ben Novack was found bludgeoned to death in a Westchester County, N.Y. hotel.
On the video, which was shown Wednesday in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember, Veliz is seen leaving the ATM and, about three minutes later, the image of a green Nissan Pathfinder towing a Ford Thunderbird is captured on the ATM camera, leaving the area.
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Veliz, however, had already sworn that he wasn’t driving his Pathfinder on July 9. He testified he was driving a load of 57 passengers on a tour bus to Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Virginia.
The video seemed to blow up Veliz’s alibi, and his claims, that he wasn’t involved in the trip from Miami to New York to kill Ben Novack.
Confronted with the video, Veliz promptly told Dember: “That’s not my car.”
But the odds that some other green Pathfinder, with a T-bird in tow, was in the same place at the same time as Veliz seemed pretty slim. It also corroborated the testimony of the two hit men who claimed that Veliz hired them for the contract killing.
The two killers, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, had previously testified that Veliz bought a beat-up Ford Thunderbird for them to use as the getaway car in the crime. After purchasing it in New York from his son-in-law, Veliz bought towing equipment and, attached the vehicle to his Pathfinder, then hauled the jalopy to Miami, where it was repaired, the killers testified.
On July 9, 2009, Garcia and Gonzalez, in the T-bird, headed to New York to kill Ben Novack. They didn’t get far, however, when the car broke down again and Veliz came to their rescue, towing the Thunderbird behind his Pathfinder, toward New York, the killers testified. It was during that leg of their trip that Veliz was caught on the ATM’s video.
Eventually, Veliz was forced to abandon the idea of using the T-bird, and Veliz instead enlisted his son-in-law, Denis Ramirez, to drive another vehicle to the Hilton Rye Town, the morning of the murder, witnesses have testified.
Narcy Novack, 55, and Veliz, 58, are on trial in federal court in connection with the murder-for-hire killing of Novack’s millionaire husband, Ben Novack, Jr., 52, and his mother, Bernice Novack, 86, heirs to the Fontainebleau hotel fortune.
Ben Novack, who lived with his wife in Fort Lauderdale, had been staying at the Westchester County hotel overseeing a convention he had organized as part of his business. The killers testified that on the morning of July 12, 2009, Narcy Novack let them into the couple’s hotel suite and stood by has they beat him to death with hand weights, then bound him with duct tape and slit his eyes. Garcia testified that Veliz also hired him and another man, Melvin Medrano, to bump off Novack’s mother. Garcia confessed that he was paid $500 for the hit, and he ambushed her in the garage of her Fort Lauderdale home and beat her with a monkey wrench.
The brother and sister are charged with two counts of first-degree murder, racketeering and a litany of other felonies that could put them behind bars for life.
Prosecutors allege that Narcy Novack wanted her husband and mother-in-law out of the way so that she could take control of his lucrative convention planning business — and his money. At the time of his death, her husband had been having an extra-marital affair with a porn star and Narcy Novack feared he was going to leave her.
Veliz, who lived in Philadelphia, had a wife in New York and a litany of mistresses, was the sole witness in his own defense. On his fourth day testifying, he evaded Dember’s questions so defiantly that he was chewed out by the usually even-toned judge, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas.
At one point, Veliz threw his hands up in the air and declared that Dember “is humiliating me.”
Another time, he apologized to the jury for having made jokes a day earlier about a woman he claimed he picked up on one of his bus tours.
But the weirdest moment came toward the end of his testimony, when Dember tried to trip him up over a claim that he had made that his niece, May Abad, had him kidnapped and chained in a basement for 18 days about two months after the killings.
Abad, Narcy Novack’s daughter, threatened to kill him and his grandchildren if he didn’t persuade her mother to give her money from her stepfather’s estate, Veliz contended. Veliz testified that it was Abad, 36, who was the mastermind in the plot to kill the Novacks.
Abad, who lives in Florida, has not been called to testify in the case. Prosecutors have kept her whereabouts secret because Veliz’s brother, Carlos, allegedly tried to hire someone to break her legs.
Carlos Veliz has not been charged in the case.
On Thursday, Narcy Novack’s attorney, Howard Tanner, is expected to begin his case. Still up in the air: whether Narcy Novack will testify in her own defense.