Feds charge five in 'Goodfellas' heist
NEW YORK — More than 30 years after Vincent Asaro is believed to have gotten away with helping hatch a $6 million airport heist dramatized in the hit Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas,” prosecutors say the reputed mobster slipped up and complained to the wrong person that he’d been cheated by another gangster named James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke.
“We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get,” the 78-year-old Asaro told a cooperator wearing a wire in 2011, according to the court papers. “Jimmy Burke kept everything.”
The profanity-laced rant was a break in an investigation that resulted on Thursday in murder, robbery, extortion, arson and other charges against Asaro and four other defendants, including Asaro’s son, Jerome. The men were named in a racketeering indictment and other court papers that Asaro’s defense attorney, Gerald McMahon, dismissively said at times read like another movie script.
“Marty needed a sequel and Loretta said she would help out,” McMahon told reporters outside court, referring to the famed director and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
The father and son, 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.
McMahon accused authorities of using shady turncoat gangsters to frame his client, 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 to 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.
Hooded 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 orchestrated by 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.
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 cooperating 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 cooperator that Burke “had killed Katz with a dog chain because they believed he was a ‘rat,’” the papers say.
The cooperator told investigators that Asaro and Burke brought Katz’s body to a vacant home in Queens where it was concealed beneath a cement floor. In the 1980s, Burke ordered the cooperator to dig up the remains and move them to another location.
The Asaros also were charged with arson in the 1981 torching of a building that was the former home of a nightclub called Afters that was “a known meeting place of many organized crime members and associates” that was named for “after Lufthansa,” the papers say.
The owner of an Italian restaurant from the night spot “was upset that the new owners of Afters were going to replace it with a social club that catered to African Americans” so the father ordered his son to burn it down by igniting gasoline with a burning rubber ball thrown through a window, they say.
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 cooperation with law enforcement.