For more than 35 years the mobsters behind one of the largest cash thefts in US history – a heist so brazen it was used as one of the central themes of the film Goodfellas — seemed to have got clean away.
But prosecutors now believe they have finally caught up with at least one member of the gang behind the $6m robbery of a cargo terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 1978.
Gunmen wearing hoods descended on the terminal to steal $5m in untraceable US currency that had been brought from Germany to New York. The money was never found. Jewellery worth about $1m was also taken by the thieves.
On Thursday, Vincent Asaro, 78, was indicted for allegedly taking part in the robbery. He and his son Jerome, both alleged captains in the Bonanno organized crime family, along three other defendants face accusations of murder, robbery, extortion, arson and bookmaking.
The Asaros were also charged over a 1984 robbery when $1.25m worth of gold salts were taken from a Federal Express employee.
They both 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.
Mr Massino "is one of the worst witnesses I've ever seen," Mr McMahon said. He added that Mr 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 Mr Asaro of helping to direct the Kennedy airport heist.
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 Mr Asaro. The theft was hatched by James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, a late Lucchese crime family associate who was close to Mr 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 witness wore a wire and recorded a conversation he had with Mr Asaro in 2011 in which the pair discussed being slighted.
"We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get," Mr 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 Mr Burke. According to the cooperating witness, Mr Asaro and Mr Burke were business partners in Robert's Lounge, the papers say. The saloon was described by a fellow Lucchese associate of Mr Burke, the late Henry Hill, as Mr Burke's private cemetery.
"Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies ... under the bocce courts," Mr Hill wrote in his book A Goodfella's Guide to New York.
Mr Katz once owned a warehouse where mobsters stored stolen goods, according to the court papers. After a raid at the warehouse, Mr Asaro and Mr Burke began to suspect Mr Katz was a law enforcement informant.
Mr Asaro told the cooperating witness that Mr Burke "had killed Katz with a dog chain because they believed he was a 'rat,"' the papers say. In the 1980s, Mr Burke ordered the witness to dig up the remains and move them to another location.
The witness told investigators that Mr Asaro and Mr Burke brought Mr Katz's body to a vacant home in Queens where it was concealed beneath a cement floor.
Mr 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.
Massino was convicted in 2004 on charges he had a hand in multiple gangland murders, including the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco — a story that was also turned into a movie.
In July, Massino saw his life prison sentence reduced to time served after prosecutors praised him for co-operating with the government.
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