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Feds arrest reputed mobster in '78 Lufthansa heist

January 23, 2014
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — More than 30 years after hooded gunmen pulled a $6 million airport heist dramatized in the 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 and three other defendants in wide-ranging indictment alleging murder, robbery, extortion, arson and other crimes from the late 1960s through last year. It accused 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 invaded the airline's cargo terminal and stole about $5 million in untraceable U.S. currency from a vault that was being returned to the United States from Germany. The cash was never found. Authorities say jewelry worth about $1 million also was taken.

According to court papers, an unidentified cooperating witness told investigators that he participated in the robbery at the direction of Arsaro.

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.

Asaro and his son Jerome, both alleged captains in the Bonanno organized crime family, also were charged in a 1984 robbery of $1.25 million worth of gold salts from a Federal Express employee.

All five defendants were in custody and awaiting appearances on Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn. Information on their attorneys was not immediately available.

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 James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke. Burke, a late Lucchese crime family associate, planned the Lufthansa heist and was known for burying victims of mob hits in familiar places.

According to the cooperating witness, Asaro and Burke were close and 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.

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.

The papers say the cooperator wore a wire and recorded a conversation he had with Asaro in 2011 in which the pair discussed the Lufthansa heist.

"We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get," Asaro said, according to the court papers. "Jimmy Burke kept everything."

 
 

 

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