|By Luis Andres Henao and Douglas Hanks,
The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 14, 2009 - Ben Novack Jr., the son of the founder of Miami Beach's iconic Fontainebleau resort, was slain in his room at a suburban New York hotel, police said Monday.
Novack, 53, whose Fort Lauderdale firm planned meetings nationwide, had organized a weekend convention at the Hilton Rye Town for 1,000 Amway Global representatives. Novack's wife told police that when she returned to her hotel room from breakfast at 8 a.m. Sunday, she found his beaten body on the floor, next to the bed, and still in his pajamas.
"He was bludgeoned with some sort of a blunt instrument," Rye Brook Police Chief Gregory Austin told The Miami Herald. He would not release details of Novack's injuries or the weapon. An autopsy was performed Monday.
Austin said Novack's wife -- identified in public records variously as Narcy Novack and Narcisa Veliz -- had been staying with him at the Hilton about 20 miles northeast of Manhattan in Westchester County since they checked in for the Amway event on Thursday.
"We have no suspects at this time," Austin said.
At a press conference in Rye Brook, Austin described Novack's death as a targeted killing. "It was centered on him," he said. "This was not a stranger that randomly picked him."
He said no valuables were missing from the room.
Novack, CEO of Convention Concepts Unlimited, was the victim of a home-invasion robbery about seven years ago in Fort Lauderdale, according to James Scarberry, former chief of the Hollywood Police Department and a longtime family friend of Novack.
Scarberry, a former Miami Beach police officer, said Novack called him the day it happened.
"Benji told me all about it," Scarberry said Monday, using Novack's boyhood nickname. "He was tied up. [The suspects] stole a bunch of stuff from the safe -- jewelry, cash."
A few months later, Scarberry said, Novack told him he had been set up and that he knew who did it. Scarberry said Novack even recovered some of the valuables.
A Fort Lauderdale police spokesman said Monday that a 2002 incident report involving Novack was "archived" and not immediately available.
Austin told The Herald he did not know about the home invasion. "First I'm hearing of it," he said.
Novack was best known in South Florida as the son and namesake of Ben Novack, who built the Fontainebleau in the 1950s and presided over its reign as Miami Beach's largest and most glamorous resort. Novack's father lost the hotel in a 1977 bankruptcy.
Between 1974 and 2000, the younger Novack served as a volunteer reserve officer with the Miami Beach Police Department. In 1985, the year his father died, Novack wound up in a public spat with his father's girlfriend, a 30-year-old former Miss Uruguay, Juana M. Rodriguez. Each accused the other of trying to plunder the elder Novack's remaining fortune.
Among the items they fought over: a $15,000 diamond-studded pinkie ring.
The younger Novack touted his connection to the grand hotel as he carved out a successful event-planning business, Convention Concepts Unlimited, which launched in 1978.
The Fort Lauderdale company's website links to a short biography that touts "the legendary Ben Novack, Sr.," and notes the younger Novack "literally grew up" at the Fontainebleau, where the Novacks lived in a penthouse apartment.
People close to Ben Novack Jr. -- including his wife, assistant, a business partner and neighbors -- could not be reached Monday afternoon or declined to be interviewed. People who did business with Novack described him as gruff, profane and difficult.
"I gotta tell you: He wasn't the easiest person in the world to deal with," said Kay Hollander, the senior associate vice president for meetings of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau through the early 1990s.
After his father's bankruptcy, Novack built his convention-planning business around a major client: Amway, the retail giant that uses a global network of individuals to sell its products from living rooms and kitchen tables. Executives in South Florida's meeting business described Novack as one of the top event planners for Amway, a company with a reported $8 billion in sales.
An April 17, 1993, article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described a fight over the city's effort to block retail sales at an Amway event Novack was planning there.
"If they do this, I will permanently and forever ban Pittsburgh" from Amway conventions and seminars, the paper quoted Novack as saying.
Before he left for New York, Novack had a heated meeting Thursday in Fort Lauderdale with local government officials. The topic: an Amway event scheduled for the Broward County Convention Center in September.
About 2,000 Amway representatives -- mostly from Latin America -- were expected for the convention, and Novack thought security was too strict at the Broward airport and convention center.
"He is a very aggressive person," said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. "He wanted to make sure everyone was aware of his issues."
Miami Herald columnist Joan Fleischman contributed to this report.
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