By Jim Fitzgerald
WHITE PLAINS — A Brooklyn man accused of helping his sister arrange the killings of her millionaire husband and mother-in-law testified this week that he had nothing to do with the attacks.
By simply saying "no" more than 60 times, Cristobal Veliz told the jury he didn't recruit, pay or instruct the killers or buy any of the weapons involved.
His denials disputed earlier testimony from the two men — Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez — who have testified they carried out the killings.
Veliz, of Brooklyn, was in his second day of testimony in federal court, where he and Narcy Novack, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are charged with murder. Prosecutors say they choreographed the 2009 killings of Bernice Novack at her Fort Lauderdale home and Ben Novack Jr. at a suburban New York hotel.
Ben Novack's father built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
Prosecutors say Narcy Novack knew her husband had a mistress, feared he would divorce her and worried that a prenuptial agreement would block her from the multimillion-dollar family estate.
If convicted of murder in aid of racketeering, the siblings would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Narcy Novack's lawyer, Howard Tanner, said Monday that he doesn't yet know if she will testify.
Garcia and Gonzalez have pleaded guilty in the killing of Ben Novack and are awaiting sentencing. In addition, Garcia admitted on the stand that he killed Bernice Novack, though he claimed he wasn't trying to kill her, just assault her. The defense has stressed that Garcia and Gonzalez know they might get a better sentence or prison conditions if they testify the way the government wants them to.
Veliz, testifying through a Spanish translator, seemed nearly emotionless as he repeatedly said "no," though he raised his arms in frustration once when he tried to testify about what someone else told him and the judge reminded him about the rule against hearsay evidence.
Veliz denied helping Garcia case Bernice Novack's home in the days before her April 4, 2009, killing, saying he doesn't know where she lives. He also denied telling Garcia, who bashed the 86-year-old woman with a plumber's wrench, to make sure she was hit in the teeth.
Veliz said he didn't arrange with Narcy Novack to have her stroke her husband's hair in a restaurant as a way of identifying him to his killers.
He denied going to a Kmart in Miami to buy the dumbbells that were used to beat Ben Novack. He also denied going to an auto parts store in New York and buying the utility knife that was used to slice his eyes.
Veliz said he wasn't near the Hilton Rye Town in Rye Brook, N.Y., on July 12, 2009, when Ben Novack was killed. He denied driving the killers to the hotel and receiving a phone call from Narcy Novack that signaled it was time for the attack.
And he said he never told Garcia that he wanted Ben Novack assaulted because he forced rough sex on his wife and had a fetish about sex with amputees.
Earlier, the judge ruled that Veliz may not testify that Narcy Novack's daughter, May Abad, told him she had arranged the killing of Ben Novack. The judge said the statement couldn't be properly corroborated.
The defense is claiming Abad was behind the deaths. Veliz testified last week that he saw her with the killers.
Abad's lawyer didn't return a call seeking comment. Abad told the Miami Herald in April that trying to blame her stepfather's murder on her was "a joke."
"They are going to say whatever they can," she said.
Before the jury was seated Monday, prosecutor Elliott Jacobson disclosed that an anonymous letter written in Spanish to police after the killings, pointing the finger at Narcy Novack and Veliz, was written by their sister, Letitia. Jacobson didn't elaborate.
The jury hasn't seen the letter.