January 24, 2014 in Nation/World

Reputed mobster Asaro charged in Lufthansa cash heist in 1978

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

FBI agents flank Vincent Asaro as they escort the reputed mobster from FBI offices in lower Manhattan on Thursday in New York.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – 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 a 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 indictment accused Vincent 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.

According to court papers, an unidentified mob associate who pleaded guilty and became a cooperating 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 cooperating 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 cooperator 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.”

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. Burke inspired Robert De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas,” which was based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book “Wiseguy.”

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