Novack trial: Veliz denies credit card purchase tied to 2009 killing

WHITE PLAINS Cristobal Veliz testified in federal court today that he and his credit cards were in New York on April 4, 2009, the day that his sister’s mother-in-law, Bernice Novack, was bludgeoned to death inside her Fort Lauderdale home.

So, he had no explantion why one of those cards was used in a K-Mart in Miami that day, other than to insist that he wasn’t the one who made the purchase.

The denial contradicts the earlier testimony of Alejandro Garcia, Bernice Novack’s confessed killer, who joined other associates in the deadly plot in maintaining that Veliz recruited them for the job and accompanied them to Fort Lauderdale to scout out Bernice Novack’s house and look for her.

Veliz, 58, is now charged with his 55-year-old sister, Narcy Novack, with masterminding not only Bernice Novack’s killing, but the brutal beating death of Ben Novack Jr., Narcy Novack’s husband, at the Hilton Rye Town three months later.

On the witness stand in U.S. District Court in White Plains, Veliz said he did not go to Florida until after learning of Bernice Novack’s death. On Monday, he had testified that he had no idea where she lived until he accompanied Ben Novack to the house that week to help him open the windows and air out the house clear it of the smell from what had happened.

He reiterated today that he had an “excellent” relationship with Ben Novack and was trying to help him deal with his mother’s sudden death.

“I wanted him to get that out of his mind,” Veliz testified. “We actually went out on a boat. I wanted him to think of something else.”

But Garcia and another hired killer, Joel Gonzalez, testified that Veliz also recruited them for the fatal attack on Ben Novack just months later, on July 12, 2009. They said Narcy Novack let them into the couple’s suite at the Rye Brook hotel, where she remained for most of the brutal attack. They said they pummeled the Florida millionaire with dumbbells before Garcia cut his eyes and gagged him.

Prosecutors contend that Veliz and Narcy Novack masterminded the plot to cash in on Ben Novack’s fortune, estimated to be worth as much as $10 million. Narcy Novack feared her husband would divorce her and end her lavish lifestyle. Ben Novack’s mistress, former call girl and porn star Rebecca Bliss, testified that she tried to buy her out for $10,000 to end the affair with her husband.

Defense attorneys have disputed the government’s account, and have suggested that Narcy Novack’s daughter, May Abad, had a stronger motive to carry out the two killings: Her children stand to inherit the Novack fortune if her mother is convicted.

On Monday, Veliz implicated Abad in the pot and testified that Abad had him abducted and held in a Florida basement for 18 days months after Ben Novack’s killing.

Ben Novack earned millions through his company, Convention Concepts Unlimited, primarily hosting Amway Global conventions nationwide. He founded the company in 1978, shortly after his father lost ownership of the glitzy Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach to bankruptcy. The elder Novack opened the hotel in the late 1950s, and ran it during it’s heyday as a favorite stomping ground for the rich and famous.

Read more tomorrow in The Journal News and

Novack trial: Cristobal Veliz denies role in deadly plot


Over and over, dozens and dozens of times, that was the answer given today by defendant Cristobal Veliz as he denied any involvement in the 2009 deaths of his brother-in-law, Florida millionaire Ben Novack Jr., and Novack’s mother, Bernice Novack.

Veliz denied the things the killers’ claimed he said and did over several months in 2009, insisting he did not recruit them or finance them and certainly had not accompanied them to the Hilton Rye Town, where Novack was brutally killed on July 12, 2009.

He didn’t even know where the hotel was, he told his lawyer, Lawrence Sheehan, as the seventh week of his trial began in U.S. District Court. Veliz, 58, and his sister, Novack’s wife, Narcy, 55, are charged with racketeering and other crimes for allegedly orchestrating both Ben Novack’s murder and his mother’s, who was bludgeoned to death in her Fort Lauderdale home April 4, 2009.

Veliz began his testimony on Thursday and implicated his niece, May Abad – Narcy Novack’s daughter and Ben Novack’s stepdaughter – saying he saw her with the killers in the days leading up to the Rye Brook hotel attack.

This afternoon Veliz is expected to testify that he was kidnapped in September 2009, and held in a basement for more than two weeks, and that Abad was behind the kidnapping.

But U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas ruled Veliz would not be able to testify as to any conversation he might have had with Abad while he was allegedly being held, particularly his claim that she confessed to having Ben Novack killed.

“It’s a way for Mr. Veliz to try to contort the rules of evidence to pin this on someone else,” Karas said.

Defense attorneys have suggested that Abad had a stronger motive to have her stepfather and his mother killed – her children stand to collect the Novack fortune, valued as high as $10 million, if Narcy Novack is convicted of orchestrating the killings.

Federal prosecutors counter that Veliz and Narcy Novack masterminded the fatal plot to cash in on the money. Narcy Novack feared her husband was going to leave her, ending her lavish lifestyle. Both killers in the plot, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, testified that Veliz enlisted them for the scheme and that Narcy Novack let them into the couple’s hotel suite and remained for much of the brutal attack on her husband.

Ben Novack made millions through Convention Concepts Unlimited, the company he formed in the late 1970s after his father lost ownership of the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach to bankruptcy

Lauren Spierer mystery: In culture of partying, new questions about why pals let her stagger away, vanish

On the night she vanished, Lauren Spierer’s eye was starting to blacken, she had smacked her skull, lost her keys, her shoes, her cellphone and her ID, and had to be carried up the street on the back of a guy she had met just a week earlier who told friends he had designs on her.
The Indiana University sophomore staggered into a friend’s apartment under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Two buddies – Jay Rosenbaum and his neighbor Mike Beth – said they tried to put an end to a long night of partying by getting her to sleep over on one of their couches. But Spierer, despite being so inebriated or perhaps because of it, didn’t want to stop, they said. She asked Beth to come to her place for more drinks.

Read the full story at View complete coverage of Spierer’s disppearance on a special page at


Signing off for the last time

After eight years of covering courts, crime and just about every other topic imaginable, I am leaving The Journal News for a reporting job in New Jersey. This will be my last post on and on Completely Legal, the blog I created in 2008.

State and federal courts in Westchester is in the capable hands of staff writer Erik Shilling. He can be reached at

Rockland County courts will remain the purview of reporter Steve Lieberman, while Putnam County courts will continue to be covered by reporter Terence Corcoran. Their emails, respectively, are and

Bankruptcy firm wins 2012 “family friendly” award

A White Plains bankruptcy firm has been chosen to receive the Westchester Women’s Bar Association’s  2012 Family Friendly Employment Policy Award.

Rattet Pasternak LLP was selected for creating an environment that encourages employees to balance professional and family responsibilities, according to the WWBA.

The WWBA has awarded several other law firms for their family-friendly workplaces, including the White Plains office of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP; The Pace Women’s Justice Center; Hyman & Gilbert; McCarthy, Fingar LLP; Glassman & Brown, LLP; The Westchester Legal Aid Society; Cuddy & Feder, LLP; the White Plains office of Jackson Lewis LLP; The Dorf Law Firm LLP; The Law Firm of Thomas M. Bona P.C.; Benchmark Title Agency; and, last year, Littman Krooks LLP.

Rattet Pasternak will be given the award at the WWBA’s annual dinner on June 13 at the Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club.

With more than 650 male and female members, the WWBA is the largest chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York.

South Nyack man faces sex abuse trial involving young girl

Todd Retallack, 49, of South Nyack went on trial today in Rockland County Court in New City on felony charges of sex abuse involving a girl under the age of 11.

The final two jurors were chosen to the 11-member panel, with several alternates. The prosecution then gave its opening statement to the jury, followed by the defense lawyers.

Testimony opened with the little girl’s mother taking the stand before the jury and Judge William K. Nelson. The girl is expected to testify for the prosecution.

Following a six-month investigation, Retallack, once married with children, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. The felony abuse count involves accusations of improper sexual contact with a child younger than 11, according to the state penal law.

South Nyack-Grand View police arrested Retallack in May 2011 after the girl’s father went to the police about six months earlier. Retallack knew the family.

The trial continues on Monday at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

Contractors admit to not paying prevailing wages; fines

An Orange County married couple who own a construction company pleaded guilty today in Rockland County Court to defrauding $190,000 in pay and benefits from their employees who worked three municipal sewer jobs in Rockland.

After admitting the knowingly refused to pay state mandated prevailing wages, Diane and Kenneth Deaver and their Schenley Construction Inc. must pay restitution of $638,000 in underpayments to workers, forfeit two vehicles and pay $55,0000 in forfeiture to the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.

As part of their plea to second-degree grand larceny, the Deavers will be barred from bidding or performing public work in New York state for five years.


Guilty plea in West Haverstraw townhouse explosion case

After weeks of negotiations, a Westchester County man pleaded guilty today in Rockland County Court in New City to overseeing the construction work that caused a natural gas leak and explosion that destroyed a West Haverstraw townhouse and nearly killed two volunteer firefighters and two utility company workers.

Fidel Padilla, 53, of 97 Croton Avenue, Cortlandt Manor, and his company, FGC Communications of the same address pleaded guilty before County Court Judge Charles Apotheker.

Padilla pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree reckless endangerment while his company pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree assault.

Apotheker scheduled sentencing for July 27.


Mamaroneck lawyer to be honored

The Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will honor attorney Jon A. Dorf at the 2012 Equal Access to Justice Dinner on Wednesday, May 23. The ceremony starts at 6 p.m. at the VIP Country Club in New Rochelle.

Dorf (pictured, right) is the Founder and Managing Partner of Dorf & Nelson LLP in Rye.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will be the guest speaker at the fundraising dinner.

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley handles urgent matters such as domestic violence, foreclosures, predatory lending, children’s advocacy and access to food and medical benefits for poor and newly unemployed New Yorkers in Westchester and surrounding counties.

For tickets and information, go to or call 914-355-4806.

Photo courtesy of LSHV

NY Bar Association president marks Law Day with plea for better court funding

This just in from the New York State Bar Association:

In the historic chambers of the state’s highest court, State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III today stressed the vital importance of a fully funded and operational court system.

“In matters large and small, the Judiciary is the foundation of our freedom,” he said. “The courts defend our fundamental rights, protect public safety and facilitate the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he said. “When the courts suffer, the pain is felt throughout society.”

Doyle delivered his remarks at Law Day ceremonies at the state Court of Appeals where Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman opened the session attended by members of the Court of Appeals, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other elected officials.

Doyle’s speech reflected a central theme of Law Day being echoed in the legal community across the nation: “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.”

Doyle cited a Bar Association report in January that revealed the impact of 2011 budget cuts on the state court. Among the report’s findings: reduced courthouse hours were limiting citizen access to courts and resulting in delays in resolving cases; the jury selection process potentially was being compromised by the prospect of lengthier trials; delays were resulting in criminal suspects spending more time in jail before trial; staff reductions were affecting the ability of the courts to efficiently and effectively dispense with cases; and less assistance was available to litigants who represent themselves in family court and other civil cases.

The report is available at

Doyle said the State Bar Association understands that “government resources are not unlimited,” but when setting spending priorities, elected officials must recognize the fundamental role of the Judiciary in establishing the rule of law.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association, founded in 1876,  is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country.