Ten weeks. Some 250 hours. More than 4,000 pages of testimony. Over 40 witnesses. More than 300 exhibits and 100 pages of instructions.
And now the verdict is in: Narcy Novack and her brother Cristobal Veliz were found guilty in connection with the plot to kill both her husband, Ben Novack Jr., and her mother-in-law, Bernice Novack, heirs to the Fontainebleau hotel fortune.
Narcy, 55, who was not present for the verdict, was convicted on 12 of the 13 counts against her, and her brother was convicted on 14 of 15 counts. The verdict was announced in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., where the 9-week trial was held.
The count for which they were acquitted was “felony murder” in the gruesome death of Ben Novack. The acquittal apparently stemmed from prosecutors failing to establish that Novack was both robbed and slain, a requirement for the federal charge to stick.
Defense attorney Howard Tanner called it a significant victory, although his client, Narcy, still faces a likely life sentence and almost certainly will lose all rights to her husband’s $10 million estate, ending her lavish, rags-to-riches lifestyle.
“I hope she will never see the light of day. That is such good news. I’m crying, I have been through so much,” said Bernice Novack’s sister, Maxine Fiel.
The sinister plot began in April 2009, when Veliz, 58, hired two Miami men to stalk and then attack 86-year-old Bernice Novack, who was once the queen of the Fontainebleau. Bernice Novack, a spry, vigorous woman who lived alone and practiced yoga, 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 a fall she had taken a week earlier in a bank parking lot.
At first, her son, Ben Novack Jr., thought it was an accident, but then he became suspicious. Before he could act on those suspicions, however, he was bludgeoned to death at the Rye Town Hilton in the New York City suburbs, where he and his wife had been attending a convention for his Fort Lauderdale-based company, Convention Concepts Unlimited.
An assortment of thugs, including the two hired hit men, testified during the lengthy and sometimes tedious trial. Among other things, the killers told jurors that Narcy Novack let them into the couple’s hotel suite on the morning of July 12. Her husband, who was asleep, was attacked in his bed — with the killers pounding him with hand weights, then binding him with duct tape. His wife, meanwhile, urged them to stay quiet and threw them a pillow to muffle her husband’s screams. In a last act of a scorned woman, she ordered them to gouge his eyes with a utility knife.
At the time of his slaying, Ben Novack Jr., 53, was having an affair with a porn star and stripper, Rebecca Bliss, and his wife feared that her husband would divorce her, leaving her penniless.
After her husband was killed, Narcy Novack stole $105,000 from his company and laundered a good deal of it through family members. Some of it ended up with the killers, who eventually confessed and cooperated with federal prosecutors. Meanwhile, according to authorities, Narcy Novack’s other brother, Carlos Veliz, allegedly hired people to attack Narcy Novack’s daughter, May Abad, whose sons stand to inherit the Novack estate now that their grandmother is convicted.
Lead prosecutor Elliott Jacobson, assisted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember, methodically laid out their case, detailing a trail of bank receipts, cell phone records and even video that tracked the killers in the months and weeks before and after the murders. Cristobal Veliz, the point man who did the hiring, had claimed during several courtroom outbursts that the real killer behind the scheme was Abad.
Abad, who did not testify, accused her mother and uncle of turning the case into a circus. That so-called circus included testimony from a private detective hired by her mother who picked through Abad’s garbage looking for evidence tying her to the crimes.
But in the end, the jury didn’t buy theories outlined by defense attorneys Tanner and Larry Sheehan, who argued that the hired killers were lying to save their own skin and that Abad had framed her mother so that her sons would inherit the Novack estate.
The jury seemed to be struggling in recent days with the task of finding a verdict while poring over a dizzying indictment that includes so many charges, elements, theories, acts and conspiracies that it would leave a law professor shaking his head.
The single acquittal apparently came after jurors got hung up on a key piece of evidence: a gold bracelet worn by Novack Jr., with the name “Ben” spelled out in diamonds. Prosecutors alleged that the sparkling trinket was stolen from his body and that that single act of robbery went to the heart of the felony murder conviction. Jurors apparently weren’t convinced.
Tanner, whose client sat in a holding cell during the reading of the verdict “for reasons best known to her,” said he felt some vindication over the acquittal on the single count of felony murder.
“The jury obviously struggled with the governments theory that he was robbed,” Tanner said, adding that his client will weigh whether to file an appeal.
The Associated Press and The Journal News of Westchester County (N.Y.) contributed to this story.