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FBI agents flanked Vincent Asaro on Thursday as they escorted the reputed mobster from FBI offices in Manhattan. More than 30 years after the crime, Asaro was indicted in the $6 million Lufthansa heist that was dramatized in the Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas.”

CHARLES ECKERT Newsday,

Reputed mobster indicted in 1978 airport heist that played part in 'Goodfellas'

  • Article by: JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
  • New York Times
  • January 23, 2014 - 9:23 PM

 

– 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 U.S. 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 heist, saying they had four cooperating witnesses from organized crime families who linked 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 are convinced that another 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.

‘Jimmy kept everything’

The indictment, for racketeering, represents the first time an organized crime figure has been charged in the $6 million heist — the equivalent, adjusted for inflation, of $21.4 million today.

But Asaro, a resident of 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,” Asaro said to another mob figure, who is cooperating with the government.

“Jimmy kept everything,” he added, apparently a reference to Burke, according to legal filings by prosecutors.

The indictment charges Asaro; his son, Jerome, 55; and three other men with a racketeering conspiracy that plays like a Mafia highlights reel: robbery, extortion, armored truck heist, murder.

‘Paid with their lives’

Asaro, for example, was accused of muscling his way into the pornography business and of robbing Federal Express of $1.25 million worth of gold salts.

The indictment also accuses Asaro 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 U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch.

The legal filings by prosecutors do not say precisely what Asaro’s role in the Lufthansa heist might have been, although he is charged with the robbery as well as with planning it.

“Asaro himself was in on one of the most notorious heists — the Lufthansa robbery in 1978,” said the FBI agent in charge of the New York field office, George Venizelos. “It may be decades later, but the FBI’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver.”

Prosecutors believe that Asaro gave some of the jewelry stolen in the heist to a superior in the Bonanno crime family. That superior later became an informer and is helping prosecutors with the case, a legal filing said. The cooperator is not named, but appears to match the description of a former boss of the Bonanno family, Joseph C. Massino.

© 2014 Star Tribune