Mobster Vincent Asaro pleads not guilty in 1978 Lufthansa heist
Asaro accused of participating in one of largest cash thefts in American history, worth $6M
More than 30 years after hooded gunmen pulled a $6 million airport heist dramatized in the hit Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas, an elderly reputed mobster was arrested at his New York City home on Thursday and charged in the robbery and a 1969 murder.
Vincent Asaro, 78, was named along with his son, Jerome, and three other defendants in wide-ranging indictment alleging murder, robbery, extortion, arson and other crimes from the late 1960s through last year. The Asaros, both identified as captains in the Bonanno organized crime family, pleaded not guilty through their attorneys and were ordered held without bail at a brief appearance in federal court in Brooklyn.
The elder Asaro's attorney, Gerald McMahon, told reporters outside court that his client was framed by shady turncoat gangsters, including former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino — the highest-ranking member of the city's five organized crime families to break the mob's vow of silence.
Massino "is one of the worst witnesses I've ever seen," McMahon said. He added that Asaro had given him "marching orders" that "there will be no plea and he will walk out the door a free man."
A lawyer for Jerome Asaro declined comment.
The cash was never found
The indictment accused Asaro of helping to direct the Dec. 11, 1978, Lufthansa Airlines heist at Kennedy airport — one of the largest cash thefts in American history.
The gunmen looted a vault in the airline's cargo terminal and stole about $5 million in untraceable U.S. currency that was being returned to the United States from Germany, along with about $1 million in jewelry. The cash was never found.
Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies.- Henry Hill
According to court papers, an unidentified mob associate who pleaded guilty and became a co-operating witness told investigators that he participated in the robbery at the direction of Asaro. The theft was hatched by James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, a late Lucchese crime family associate who was close to Asaro, who told the bandits that he had a "score" that would make them rich, the papers say.
Each robber was supposed to be paid $750,000, but the co-operating witness said "most did not receive their share, either because they were killed first or it was never given to them," according to the court papers.
The papers say the co-operator wore a wire and recorded a conversation he had with Asaro in 2011 in which the pair discussed being slighted.
"We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get," Asaro said, according to the court papers. "Jimmy Burke kept everything."
FBI dig uncovers remains
In addition to the heist, the elder Asaro was charged in the 1969 murder of Paul Katz, whose remains were found last year during an FBI dig at a house once occupied by Burke. According to the co-operating witness, Asaro and Burke were business partners in Robert's Lounge, the papers say. The saloon was described by a fellow Lucchese associate of Burke, the late Henry Hill, as Burke's private cemetery.
"Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies ... under the bocce courts," Hill wrote in his book, A Goodfella's Guide to New York.
Katz once owned a warehouse where mobsters stored stolen goods, according to the court papers. After a raid at the warehouse, Asaro and Burke began to suspect Katz was a law enforcement informant.
Asaro told the co-operator that Burke "had killed Katz with a dog chain because they believed he was a 'rat,"' the papers say. In the 1980s, Burke ordered the co-operator to dig up the remains and move them to another location.
The co-operator told investigators that Asaro and Burke brought Katz's body to a vacant home in Queens where it was concealed beneath a cement floor.
Burke inspired Robert De Niro's character in Goodfellas, which was based on Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy and told the story of Hill's time in the mob and subsequent co-operation with law enforcement.
Massino was convicted in 2004 on charges he had a hand in multiple gangland murders, including the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco — a story that was also turned into a movie.
In July, Massino saw his life prison sentence reduced to time served after prosecutors praised his work as a government co-operator.