Reputed NY mobster nabbed in 1978 ‘Goodfellas’ airport heist

Alleged Bonanno crime family leader Vincent Asaro is escorted by FBI agents from their Manhattan offices in New York January 23, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Alleged Bonanno crime family leader Vincent Asaro is escorted by FBI agents from their Manhattan offices in New York January 23, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Five people said to be part of a New York crime family were arrested on Thursday, including a 78-year-old man accused of participating in a notorious 1978 airport heist that inspired the movie “Goodfellas.”

More than three decades after $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry was stolen from a Lufthansa airlines cargo building at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the FBI arrested Vincent Asaro, an alleged leader of the Bonanno organized crime family, on robbery charges.

Four other men, who prosecutors said were members of the New York-based gang, were arrested for other crimes.

“Vincent Asaro devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in a statement. “Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro’s ruthless ways, as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months.”

Asaro pleaded not guilty in a brief appearance at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, and his attorney said he would fight the charges.

“I got a call from Martin Scorsese,” joked attorney Gerald McMahon, referring to the director of the 1990 movie about the heist. “He wants to do a sequel to ‘Goodfellas’ and it seems that federal prosecutors are providing him with the script.”

At the time of the JFK caper, the currency was being shipped to a U.S. bank from West Germany and the theft was the biggest cash heist ever in the United States. The stolen $5 million in cash would be worth $17.9 million in 2013 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted,” said George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge, in the New York field office.

The gangsters involved in the heist had each been promised a $750,000 payment that most didn’t get “either because they were killed first or it was never given to them,” according to court papers filed in the Brooklyn court on Thursday.

Asaro resented the non-payment, according to a 2011 recording made by a cooperating witness.

“We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get, we got fucked all around,” Asaro told the witness, according to the papers. “That fucking Jimmy (Burke) kept everything.”

‘DEAD, DISAPPEARED OR MURDERED’

James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke was played by Robert De Niro in the popular Scorsese movie adapted from the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi. Affiliated with the rival Lucchese crime family, Burke was the suspected mastermind of the brazen crime that stumped investigators for decades.

“A lot of the main characters, like Burke, either died, disappeared or were murdered,” said Anthony DeStefano, a veteran New York crime reporter and author of the 2013 book “Vinny Gorgeous: The Ugly Rise and Fall of a New York Mobster.”

A break in the case came after an FBI investigation of a New York property tied to Burke last summer turned up human remains. Burke himself died in prison in 1996 while serving time for the murder of a drug dealer.

The Thursday indictment charges Asaro with the murder of Paul Katz in 1969, as well as robbery, conspiracy and other crimes tied to the 1978 heist.

Asaro and Burke strangled Katz with a dog chain because they thought he was cooperating with investigators, prosecutors said. His body was first buried in the basement of a vacant house in the New York borough of Queens and later moved to the location where it was found last summer, they said.

The papers also charge the men were involved in the 1981 torching of a building where a businessman had intended to open a nightclub catering to black people in the then mostly white neighborhood in Queens where the accused gangsters socialized.

The papers also mention a discussion between Asaro and the other indicted men about more recent crimes, including extortion, loan sharking and violence, as recently as 2013.

FATHER, SON INDICTED TOGETHER

Asaro was charged with four criminal counts, including robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, in connection with the Lufthansa heist.

He is also charged racketeering and extortion for other alleged criminal activity.

Vincent Asaro and his son, Jerome Asaro, 55, are charged with stealing $1.25 million in gold salts from a Federal Express employee in February 1984. They are also accused of robbery conspiracy in the theft of $1 million from an armored car in the mid-1980s.

Three others defendants, Jack Bonventre, 45; Thomas “Tommy D” Di Fiore, 70; and John “Bazoo” Ragano, 52, are charged with multiple crimes, including racketeering and extortion, unrelated to the Lufthansa heist, officials said.

Jerome Asaro and Ragano, wearing baggy sweatsuits and sneakers, pleaded not guilty to all charges in Brooklyn on Thursday, while Bonventre did not enter a plea as his lawyer was not yet present. Di Fiore was not present in court.

Much of the money from the 1978 heist has not been recovered, said DeStefano, who writes for Newsday: “Some of it went up the chain in tribute to the Luccheses, some of it went to Burke and his businesses and some of it is still unaccounted for.”

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone, Nick Zieminski, Alden Bentley and Gunna Dickson)



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Girl, 10, dies after being pulled from water…

A 10-year-old girl died after being pulled from the waters off Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, police said.

News

NY judge throws out lawsuit by Empire State…

A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which longtime investors in the Empire State Building claimed they were shortchanged out of hundreds of millions of dollars…

Local

Mysterious white flags appear over Brooklyn Bridge

Two white flags mysteriously appeared over the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in place of the American flags that are a traditional fixture.

National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 7,…

Drunk girls and ghost brownies: here’s your weekly ‘Pretty Little Liars’ recap by way of Q&A. Q: do they really not check for feet under…

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

NFL

David Tyree hiring has gay rights advocates angry

Former Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree will re-join the franchise as its new director of player development.

NFL

Ben McAdoo's new offense has Giants excited to…

Even Tom Coughlin feels he has a lot to learn about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new offense, which makes the veteran coach very excited.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.