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Saturday, January 30, 2010

 

From homeless drifter to millionaire

Saturday, 01.30.10

THE NOVACK FAMILY

Troubled Novack son goes from drifter to millionaire

In another twist to a famous family's history, a troubled son has inherited millions from his mother.

JULIE BROWN

Miami Herald

A little more than a year ago, a homeless drifter named Ronald Marc Novack surfaced to claim a $100,000 inheritance from the estate of his late mother, Bella Novack.

It was a curious rags to riches story: the long lost 62-year-old man who spent most of his adult life living in the woods could now eat a handsome meal and sleep in his own bed.

What wasn't known at the time was that his mother's estate wasn't worth $100,000; it was worth millions -- and he was the sole heir.

He also carried a secret: He was the adopted son of Bella and the late Ben Novack Sr., who built and ran a number of hotels in Miami Beach, including the storied Fontainebleau resort.

His father and mother went through a bitter divorce. Ben Novack Sr. was having an affair with a model, Bernice, whom he later married, and together, had a son, Ben Novack Jr., in 1959.

Ben Novack Sr. had very little to do with his adopted son after the divorce. And when he died in 1985, he left the bulk of his estate to his biological son and, in a codicil, willed Ronald Novack just $1.

The Novack sons would live very different lives -- one would fall into mental illness and eventually wander the streets, panhandling; the other enjoyed all the spoils of rich and famous parents: private schools, elaborate parties, exotic vacations, chauffeur-driven limousines.

Until last July, when tragedy befell part of the Novack family. Novack Jr. turned up dead in a New York hotel room leaving police to sort out the murder and family members to fight over his multimillion-dollar estate.

In the meantime, Novack's disowned son surfaced to collect his mother's inheritance -- eight years after her death.

And in a twist of fate, Ronald Novack would end up with something from his father that was far more valueable than the $1 he had left him.

TALE OF 2 BROTHERSThe probate file in the Broward County Courthouse is now four inches thick -- its contents filled with accusations of infidelity, theft and murder.

 

It's labeled simply: ``Ben Novack Jr.''

Novack Jr., a self-made multimillionaire, was found beaten to death July 12 in what appears to have been a hit.

Now, a legal fist-a-cuffs battle between his wife and other family members wages on as the file is stuffed almost daily with depositions, interrogatories and court orders.

A probate trial on his estate is set to start Monday.

Novack Jr.'s wife, Narcy -- a prime suspect in his murder -- is fighting off attempts by her daughter and her husband's aunt to block her from being named personal representative of the will on the grounds that she committed the murder. But no one has been charged in the crime, and until that is settled, the estate has been placed in the hands of a curator, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Douglas Hoffman.

But the will of another member of the Novack dynasty has also been under scrutiny in the county's probate division -- that of Bella Novack -- who died in 2001.

Turns out that as part of her divorce settlement, Bella Novack received a 1.5-acre piece of land at 3101 Collins Ave., which was once the former Sans Souci Hotel.

By the time of his death, Ben Novack Sr., had lost all his hotels and had very little left of his fortune. His relationship with his biological son was strained for many years and, prior to his father's death, Ben Jr. tried to have his father declared mentally incompetent.

But Bella Novack held onto the Miami Beach property, collecting about $30,000 annually after taxes for the leased building.

After she died, the estate fell into the hands of a trustee -- a cousin and Oregon musician Craig Einhorn-- who was assigned to disburse the estate in installments to Ronald Novack.

Einhorn and his family began looking for Ronald Novack in 1999, hiring private investigators and using other sources, all of them unsuccessful. Ronald Novack worked for a time as a desk clerk at the Fontainebleau, but vanished off and on, sometimes showing up at his mother's Fort Lauderdale doorstep when he needed money.

Life on the streets meant hand-outs, food stamps and sleeping in cars.

Finally, believing Ronald Novack was dead, Einhorn moved to terminate Novack's interests in 2008.

``We looked for him for years. We thought he fell into a ditch and was eaten by an alligator,'' said Einhorn, 44.

But two days before a judge was to declare him dead, Ronald Novack surfaced at the Broward County Courthouse and walked up to a stranger, telling him about the inheritance.

The stranger, lawyer Richard Ansara, had doubts, but promised to look into it. But by the time Ansara confirmed that Novack was entitled to money from his mother's will, the drifter had disappeared again.

Ansara went public with the story of the missing homeless heir, and a few days later, on Aug. 7, 2008, Novack came forward.

He never revealed that he was part of the famous Novack family, saying that his father ``Benjamin'' was ``a landlord'' who died in the 1970s. He admitted that he had a record of petty theft, mostly related to his homelessness.

``Please be advised that I, Ronald Marc Novack, is alive and well,'' Novack wrote the judge overseeing his mother's estate after he surfaced.

Ansara tried unsuccessfully to show that Einhorn was trying to prevent his cousin from collecting the estate.

The estate has since been settled with no dispute, and Ronald Novack is being well taken care of, said Einhorn's lawyer, Douglas Hoffman -- the same lawyer in charge of Ben Novack Jr.'s estate.

``Bella's will is not being contested,'' Hoffman said. ``Ronnie is a very troubled young man. There is a trust for his benefit. He receives all the benefits and more from the assets.''

RAGS TO RICHESTurns out that Ronald Novack, once a pauper, is now prosperous. Einhorn sold the Collins Avenue property for $7.5 million and has invested the money so that his cousin will live out the rest of his life comfortably.

Einhorn said he got a good deal for the land, considering it was sold after the real estate bust and that the hotel on the property has a 99-year lease. Private appraisers valued the property at only $1.5 million, he said.

Concerned that Novack would misspend the money, his mother created a trust, allocating her son $400 a week and $5,000 more a year on the anniversary of her death. His healthcare and any emergency provisions are to be covered by the trust.

Einhorn said Novack has received far more than his mother decreed in her will, and that he is living well -- though Einhorn won't say where.

The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Ronald Novack's new attorney, Adrian Thomas, or his former attorney, Richard Ansara.

As for the sale of the property, Einhorn said that the rent for the estate -- after taxes -- wasn't worth keeping the property because it was fixed at the same amount since it was leased more than seven decades ago.

``The appraisal takes into consideration the lease which is binding on the property. The land apart from that lease I'm sure was worth a lot more,'' Einhorn said.

Other than the costs of administering the trust, he said he hasn't made a penny.

Einhorn said he was keeping his cousin's location secret because he wants to protect him.

``I feel any articles written about my cousin, Ronnie, is not in his best interest,'' Einhorn said. ``Because he lives a transient lifestyle, any information that gets published might make people go out and take advantage of him.''

Craig's mother, who was close to Bella, said they are happy that Ronald Novack is now safe.

``Here is someone who could have had everything and he was living on the streets,'' said Leah Einhorn, who is related to the family by marriage.

She said his mother tried her best to care for her son, but he refused to take medication.

``Mental illness is such a tragedy. It's so sad, because if he took the medication, he could have had a wonderful life.''

 

LINK TO PHOTOS AND RELATED STORIES:

 http://www.miamiherald.com/news/5min/story/1454000.html


Comments:
Thanks for posting this story. This was a great read and very interesting.
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