WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A cooperating witness testified Wednesday that he crashed a heavy plumber's wrench into the skull and face of a Florida millionaire's mother in an attack planned by the millionaire's wife and her brother.
And after he was congratulated on "a good job" in the fatal attack, he was recruited into another plot to attack the millionaire himself, hotel heir Ben Novack Jr., the witness said.
Alejandro Garcia, 34, a Nicaraguan illegally in the U.S., testified at the federal murder trial of Narcy Novack, 55, of Fort Lauderdale, and Cristobal Veliz, 58, of Philadelphia.
They are accused of hiring Garcia and others to kill Ben Novack and his mother in 2009 so the $10 million Novack estate would fall to Narcy Novack. Ben Novack's father built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
If convicted of murder in aid of racketeering, the defendants would be sent to prison for life.
Garcia, wearing an orange jailhouse jumpsuit and dark glasses hiding an old eye injury, testified that in both cases, his orders were to "beat up" the victims, not kill them.
But Bernice Novack died shortly after Garcia's assault in April 2009, and Ben Novack was beaten to death three months later in a New York hotel room.
Garcia is expected to testify in detail Thursday about the New York killing. He has already pleaded guilty in the case.
On Wednesday, through a Spanish-language interpreter, he identified a heavy 14-inch wrench as similar to the one he used on Bernice Novack at her Fort Lauderdale home. He was not permitted to hold it, but he demonstrated the attack by raising his arm on the witness stand and swiftly bringing it down.
He said Veliz approached him in March 2009 at a Miami car wash.
"He wanted me to go beat up an old lady," Garcia said. "He said the lady was his sister's mother-in-law."
Garcia said Veliz told him that "his sister and himself" were behind the attack. He said Veliz also said that Bernice Novack told her son to beat his wife and that Narcy Novack blamed her for unwanted breast implants she was given while she was unconscious.
Garcia agreed to attack Bernice Novack for $1,000.
After a few failed attempts to find her at an office and at a strip mall, Veliz led Garcia and another Nicaraguan, Melvin Mercando, to her neighborhood.
Garcia said Narcy Novack told Veliz the make, color and license plate number of Bernice Novack's car, which he relayed to Garcia.
Garcia said he found the car, then hid between two garbage cans until Novack came outside in a white nightgown and drove her car into her garage. When she opened the car door to get out, "I got close and I hit her on the left side of the head."
Novack fell back into the driver's seat, then Garcia hit her two or three times more. He said Veliz had instructed him "to hit her in the teeth."
When he left, he said, she was "just laying down there on the seat of the car."
Garcia did not say when he learned Novack had died in the beating. He said Veliz told him two days later: "She's fine. Don't worry."
"He told me that I had done a good job," Garcia said.
Later, Garcia said, Veliz told him about a bigger job "in which I was going to make a lot of money."
It was an assignment to beat up Ben Novack during a convention in New York that his company was arranging, Garcia said.
"Cristobal said his sister was being abused by Mr. Novack," he said. He said Veliz also told him Ben Novack had sex with little girls.
"He made me sort of hate the guy," Garcia said.
He said the plan was to injure Novack so severely he would have to retire and Narcy Novack and Veliz would take over his travel company. At first the plan included cutting off Novack's testicles, but that evolved into slashing his eyes, he said.
Veliz promised him $15,000 and "a good tip," Garcia said.
In court, Veliz identified Ben Novack from a photograph that went up on computer screens all around the courtroom. Narcy Novack dabbed an eye with a tissue.