|By Julie K. Brown, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 23, 2012--An international genealogist who specializes in hunting down long-lost heirs has been brought into the battle over the riches left by Ben Novack Jr., the Miami hotel heir who was bludgeoned to death in 2009.
Lawyers representing a branch of the Novack family hope to wrestle the estate out of the hands of Novack's wife, Narcy, a former stripper who is accused of watching two hitmen beat him with barbells and then ordering them to gouge out his eyes.
Novack, 53, and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, 55, are scheduled to stand trial in April on charges of arranging the murders of Novack and his mother, Bernice, who was once married to Ben Novack Sr., builder of the world-famous Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
Lawyers representing Bernice Novack's sister, Maxine Fiel, filed a petition in Broward County probate court Wednesday, asking the court to determine the rightful heirs to the family fortune, estimated at between $6 million and $10 million. An unknown amount of cash is also believed to be stashed in overseas bank accounts.
"Our goal is to see that justice is served and to ensure that the funds from the estate do not go to anybody profiting directly or indirectly from the alleged murder,'' said Harvey E. Morse, the genealogist brought in to investigate the family's lineage.
Under his will, Ben Novack Jr., 52, left his entire estate, including his multimillion-dollar Batman collection, to his wife. Narcy Novack said she found her husband's body, bound and gagged, in their Rye Brook, N.Y. hotel room in July 2009. A year later, she and Veliz were arrested and charged with his murder. Prosecutors also allege that they hired two hitmen to beat his mother, whose bloody corpse was found in her Fort Lauderdale home three months before her son was killed.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Douglas Hoffman, personal representative for both estates, said Wednesday that nearly all the personal belongings and holdings of Novack and his mother have been sold or auctioned off, including his extensive collection of Batman memorabilia. The son's collection, which included a Batmobile made from the original mold used for the vehicle in the TV series, was considered the second-largest in the world and estimated to be worth up to $2 million.
Under the state's slayer statute, Narcy Novack loses all rights to her husband's wealth if she is convicted of killing him. In that event, Narcy Novack's daughter from a previous marriage, May Abad, 36, and Abad's two teenage sons are next in line to inherit the estate.
Wednesday's court petition, filed by Palm Beach attorney Mark Hanson, argues that Narcy Novack's grandsons could conceivably use their inheritance to benefit their grandmother.
"Crazy things happen all the time,'' Morse said. Abad's attorney called that possibility "ludicrous,'' pointing out that Abad has been feuding with her mother since childhood and believes she killed her stepfather.
"If anything, as time goes on, her resolve grows stronger against her mother,'' the attorney, William Crawford, said Wednesday. Morse, a Daytona-based genealogist, said in addition to Fiel, there are three cousins on Ben Novack's side of the family who may be considered heirs. Morse, who has been hunting heirs for 49 years, said the Novack case is one of the more interesting ones he's handled.
"There's never been a case where the descendents [of a killer] have been prohibited from benefiting from the murder," he said
After his father lost the Fontainebleau to bankruptcy, Ben Novack Jr. set out on his own, opening a successful Fort Lauderdale-based convention planning business, Convention Concepts Unlimited. His mother, his wife and Abad worked with him in the company which reportedly earned $50 million annually.
Bernice Novack's sister, Fiel, said that the last person her sister would have wanted to inherit her money and jewels is Narcy. Bernice Novack once accused her daughter-in-law of trying to poison her.
"Why should anybody in Narcy's family get anything?" Fiel said Wednesday, adding, "I don't give a damn about the money." She explained that she simply wants to prevent Narcy's heirs from financially benefiting over her sister and nephew's murders.
Her sister, a former model, lived a life of grandeur, in a Fort Lauderdale home filled with mementos from her days at the hotel, including a piano that was once used by Frank Sinatra.
Authorities suspect that prior to her arrest, Narcy Novack may have also plundered jewelry, cash and other valuables from safe deposit boxes owned by her husband and mother-in-law. A bank administrator testified under deposition that Narcy Novack tricked clerks into giving her access to the boxes after her husband was killed by telling them he was still alive and would return shortly to give them written authorization.
Fiel contends that at least one of her sister's boxes contained a diamond necklace worth $100,000.
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