(NEW YORK) — An alleged mobster arrested Thursday for the long unsolved Lufthansa heist made famous in the movie Goodfellas admitted to an FBI informant that the theft’s ringleader, Jimmy “the Gent” Burke, cheated the Mafia out of its share of the loot.
Vincent Asaro, 78, of Howard Beach, N.Y., was arrested Thursday and among the charges against him was conspiring in the 1978 Lufthansa heist, which netted $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels. At the time, it was the biggest theft in U.S. history. The money has never been recovered.
Court documents released at his arraignment quote two of four FBI informants. One snitch told the feds that Asaro “took all of (his) share of the proceeds from the heist,” the court documents state.
But in a February 2011 conversation that was recorded by the FBI Asaro is heard complaining about Burke not sharing the loot.
“We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get, we got f—ed all around,” Asaro allegedly told the informant. “Got f—ed all around, that f—ing Jimmy [Burke] kept everything.”
Asaro pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned Thursday along with four other alleged mobsters. He was denied bail.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said Thursday that Asaro “devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family” and lived by a “code of violence and brute force,” a code that she said he continues to enforce.
“Asaro helped pull off the 1978 Lufthansa robbery — still the largest bank robbery in New York history. Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro’s ruthless ways, as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months,” Lynch said.
Far from the violent criminal described by prosecutors in the indictment, Asaro was the picture of frailty in court Thursday, hunched over, wearing black sweats, sneakers and eager to retrieve a Ziploc bag full of medication from his attorney. Asaro, his lawyer said, had undergone heart bypass surgery 10 months ago.
With the unsealing of an indictment, Asaro became the first accused mobster to face charges in the caper. Before Thursday, the only other person who ever had to answer for a role in the notorious robbery was Louis Werner, an airport worker who provided critical inside information to the robbers.
At the time of the heist, Asaro was reputed to be a key Mafia overseer responsible for illicit activities at JFK, long a target favored by the New York crime families because of the huge amount of cargo that moves through New York’s biggest airport. Asaro is now said to be an “administrator” of the Bonanno clan.
Also hauled in Thursday were four other alleged mobsters, including underboss Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore of Commack, N.Y., the highest-ranking Bonanno family member currently living outside of prison, officials said. DiFiore, facing conspiracy charges, was elevated to help rebuild a Bonanno family devastated by recent prosecutions and the stunning decision 10 years ago by family boss Joseph Massino to turn state’s evidence and testify against other wiseguys.
Thursday’s roundup had been quietly in the works for months. It stems from the FBI’s surprise decision last June to search for evidence at the home of the late Mafia associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke in Queens, N.Y. Acting on new information from a source, agents found human remains after digging in and around the home still owned by Burke’s daughter, agents said.
DNA tests matched the remains to Paul Katz, who disappeared in 1969 after Burke and his henchmen found reason to believe Katz was working with law enforcement. Investigators believe that Katz was strangled with a chain and then buried at a vacant home elsewhere in Queens, sources told ABC News. Katz’s remains were allegedly moved to Burke’s basement after the mobsters got spooked by a separate probe.
Burke, the inspiration for Robert De Niro’s “Jimmy Conway” character in Goodfellas, died in 1996 while serving time for a different killing. The feds believe that Burke was the mastermind of the Lufthansa robbery and was responsible for killing off almost anyone who could directly connect him to the notorious caper.
Retired FBI agent Steve Carbone, who helped lead the Lufthansa investigation, said authorities long suspected Asaro in the case.
“We were very suspicious of Vinny Asaro for many years, but we never had the connection,” Carbone told ABC News. “I couldn’t be more delighted, after all the work we did. Everybody we knew of (tied to the robbery) was dead and we couldn’t get anyone.”
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