The mob is still alive and active back east!
I just happened to catch the movie "Goodfellas" again on TV this afternoon. It was a very good movie and now we know how the real story turned out.
New York update: Article thanks to and
The crime gripped the public’s imagination, for both its magnitude and its moxie: In the predawn hours of Dec. 11, 1978, a group of masked gunmen seized about $6 million in cash and jewels from a cargo building at Kennedy International Airport.
The Lufthansa heist, as it was known, was billed as the biggest cash robbery in United States history, and it played a starring role in the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas.” It remained unsolved for four decades, perhaps because many of those who might have known something turned up dead.
But more than 35 years later, federal authorities on Thursday charged a 78-year-old man, Vincent Asaro, with playing a role in the robbery, saying they had four cooperating witnesses from organized crime families who linked Mr. Asaro, a reputed capo in the Bonanno crime family, to the robbery.
It is an unexpected turn in a famously unsolved case that had long been attributed to the Lucchese crime family. The indictment makes clear that the authorities now are convinced that the Bonanno family was also involved.
The man thought to be the mastermind, a Lucchese associate named James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, died in 1996 in prison, where he was serving a life sentence in a different case.
The only person ever convicted in the robbery was a Lufthansa cargo agent, described as the “inside man” in the plot.
The indictment, alleging a racketeering conspiracy from 1968 to 2013, represents the first time an organized crime figure has been charged in the $6 million robbery — the equivalent, adjusted for inflation, of $21.4 million today. But Mr. Asaro, a resident of Howard Beach, Queens, does not appear to have grown rich from the crime; as late as 2011, he was recorded complaining about his take, according to prosecutors.
“We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get,” Mr. Asaro said to another mob figure, who is cooperating with the government.
“Jimmy kept everything,” he added, apparently a reference to Mr. Burke, according to legal filings by prosecutors.
The indictment charges Mr. Asaro; Jerome Asaro, 55, his son; Jack Bonventre; Thomas DiFiore; and John Ragano with a conspiracy that plays like a Mafia highlights reel: robbery, extortion, murder and more.
Mr. Asaro, for example, was accused in the far-ranging indictment of muscling his way into the pornography business, and of robbing Federal Express of $1.25 million worth of gold salts, which are sometimes used in medicinal treatments. The indictment also accuses him of seeking to have his cousin murdered after the cousin testified in court about an insurance swindle.
“Those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement paid with their lives,” said the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch, whose office is prosecuting the case.
Some of the crimes alleged in the indictment predated even the airport heist, including a homicide committed in 1969.
The federal investigation became public in June, when agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation descended on a home owned by Mr. Burke’s daughter in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens and began digging in the basement, soon finding human remains.
The remains, the indictment states, belonged to Paul Katz, who was identified in court papers as an associate of Mr. Burke’s who had a warehouse used by Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke to store stolen goods. After the warehouse was raided, Mr. Asaro began to suspect that Mr. Katz was an informant. He later told a government informant that he and Mr. Burke had killed Mr. Katz in 1969 with a dog chain and buried him under cement in a vacant house, according to a legal filing submitted by prosecutors.
Years later, according to a filing, after a police detective reopened the Katz murder case, Mr. Asaro directed his son and another man to dig up the remains, which were then buried under the home of Mr. Burke’s daughter.
The five defendants, who investigators said were all linked to the Bonanno family, were arraigned in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, where they were ordered held. Each stood with his hands behind his back. Vincent Asaro, who wore a black sweatsuit, running shoes and tinted eyeglasses, pleaded not guilty.
His lawyer, Gerald J. McMahon, said in an interview outside the courtroom, “Literally and truly this is the sequel to ‘Goodfellas.’ ”
“Marty needs a screenplay; Loretta said she would help him out,” Mr. McMahon said of Mr. Scorsese and Ms. Lynch, the prosecutor.
“We’re confident,” he said, noting, “Vincent Asaro said categorically, ‘We’re going to trial.’ ”
Prosecutors say that Mr. Asaro is currently a captain in the Bonanno crime family, but that his standing has varied over the years, and that at one point he was demoted for taking too much money from his underlings.
The legal filings by prosecutors do not say precisely what Mr. Asaro’s role in the Lufthansa heist might have been, although he is charged with the robbery itself as well as with planning it.
“Asaro himself was in on one of the most notorious heists — the Lufthansa robbery in 1978,” the F.B.I. agent in charge of the New York field office, George Venizelos, said. “It may be decades later, but the F.B.I.’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver.”
Prosecutors believe that Mr. Asaro gave some of the stolen jewelry to a superior in the Bonanno crime family. That superior later became an informer and is helping prosecutors with the current case, according to a legal filing. The cooperator is not named in court papers but appears to match the description of a former boss of the Bonanno family, Joseph C. Massino.
The F.B.I. agent who supervised the investigation decades ago, Steve Carbone, said in an interview that he had always suspected that Mr. Asaro was “in the mix as a player” who had connections at the airport. But Mr. Carbone, who retired in 1998, said it would be a surprise to him “if Asaro was physically involved in the heist” as one of the gunmen.
Investigators believe that about a half-dozen gunmen were involved in the robbery. Among the suspects, Mr. Carbone said, were Frank Burke, James Burke’s son; Thomas DeSimone; Angelo Sepe; and Anthony Rodriguez. They all are dead or presumed dead.
Mr. Burke was eventually sent to prison on information provided by Henry Hill, the mobster-turned-informant of “Goodfellas” fame, who helped plan the Lufthansa heist. But the conviction was unrelated: It involved fixing college basketball games. While in prison, Mr. Burke was convicted in a murder.
The only person convicted of the Lufthansa robbery was the cargo agent, Louis Werner, who had gambling debts to pay off. Mr. Werner took the idea for the crime to his bookmaker, who introduced him to another bookmaker, a beautician from Long Island, who is believed to have passed along the tip to Mr. Burke’s crew. Mr. Werner was indicted in March 1979, within four months of the robbery.
Only a tiny fraction of the money stolen at Kennedy Airport was ever recovered.
By 1980, when Mr. Hill began cooperating, several corpses of people connected to the robbery or to its participants had already been discovered.
Mr. Hill died in 2012, having had heart disease and other health problems. It is thought that Mr. Rodriguez might have died from a bite by one of the dozens of pet snakes he kept in his home, according to his lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg. But Mr. Carbone said that over the years, “I got to believe 15 people were killed solely because of this case.”
Reporting was contributed by Kitty Bennett, Sheelagh McNeill, Nate Schweber and Mosi Secret.