After 35 Years, Arrests Have Been Made In The Lufthansa Heist That Inspired Goodfellas

01.23.14 5 years ago 29 Comments

Central to the plot of Goodfellas was the $6 million Lufthansa heist at JFK airport in 1978, allegedly carried out by Henry Hill and a group of mob co-conspirators. To refresh your memory, that was the one they shot Samuel Jackson and the Cadillac guy over, not the one where Lois ruins everything because of her stupid hat. But despite it having a movie about it, the supposed biggest cash robbery in US history only landed one conviction, an “inside man” who worked as an airline cargo agent. After 35 years, another arrest was made today, of 78-year-old mobster Vincent Ansaro.

On Thursday, more than 35 years later, federal authorities charged an aging mobster, Vincent Asaro, 78, with playing a role in the heist, saying they had four cooperating witnesses from organized crime families who linked Mr. Asaro, a reputed capo in the Bonanno crime family, to the robbery.

And just in time for him to die of heart disease! Great police work, everyone.

It is a stunning turn in a famously unsolved case that had long been attributed to mobsters affiliated with the Lucchese family. 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. Henry Hill, the mobster-turned-informant of “Goodfellas” fame, who helped plan the heist, died in 2012.

Burke of course inspired Robert Deniro’s Jimmy Conway character in Goodfellas.

“We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get,” Mr. Asaro said to another mobster, who is cooperating with the government.
“Jimmy kept everything,” he added, apparently a reference to Mr. Burke, according to legal filings by prosecutors.
The indictment charges Mr. Asaro; his son, Jerome, 55; and three other men with a racketeering conspiracy that reads like a Mafia highlights reel: armored truck heists, murder, attempted murder, extortion and bookmaking.
Some of the crimes alleged in the indictment predated even the airport heist, including a homicide committed in 1969. The federal investigation first became public in June, when agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation descended on a home owned by Mr. Burke’s daughter in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens and began digging in the basement, soon finding human remains.
The remains, the indictment makes clear, belonged to Paul Katz, who was identified in court papers as an associate of Mr. Burke’s who had a warehouse used by Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke to store stolen goods. After the warehouse was raided, Mr. Asaro began to suspect that Mr. Katz was an informant. He later told a government informant that he and Mr. Burke had killed Mr. Katz with a dog chain and buried him under cement in a vacant house, according to a legal filing submitted by prosecutors. [NYTimes]

At least six people connected to robbery have since ended up dead of unnatural causes, including one who may have died of a snake bite in his house (who planned that hit, Max Fischer?). The FBI agent in charge of the investigation believes 15 people were killed to cover up the robbery, and most of the money was never recovered.

But for me, the real question is what ever happened to that sweet painting of Billy Batts?

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