After 35 years, federal agents have arrested a mobster in connection with the Lufthansa heist at JFK airport in 1978, a crime that was the basis for part of the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas.
The heist involved a masked gunman who stole $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry from a cargo hold for the airline, possibly the largest haul in U.S. history — none of which has ever been recovered.
Though officials arrested Louis Werner at the time — an airport employee who was the “inside man” for the robbers — on Thursday, Vinny Asaro, now 78, was also arrested and charged for his alleged role in the heist. Four other men were also picked up in the same bust for various unrelated charges, though according to officials all five have ties to the Bonanno crime family.
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Asaro was allegedly involved in “several planning meetings” with James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, who masterminded the heist and who also has the distinction of being played by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas.
So why’d it take the feds so long? “Most of the people who were involved, who played a significant role in the robbery, were dead by the time we obtained evidence that might have been sufficient to indict them,” Edward McDonald, of the Justice Department team that led the case, told the Wall Street Journal. Many of the deaths allegedly occurred under Burke’s orders, and according to court documents, those who survived never got their share of the take anyway. “We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get, we got f–ked all around. Got f–ked around. That f–king Jimmy [Burke] kept everything,” Asaro allegedly said in a 2011 recording that was obtained by officials.
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Asaro was also charged with “the murder of suspected stool pigeon Paul Katz, who was revealed Thursday as the victim whose remains were found last year during the FBI’s highly publicized excavation at an Ozone Park house owned by Burke’s daughter,” according to the New York Post. He pleaded not guilty on Thursday in a federal court in Brooklyn.
Asaro himself is not a major player in Goodfellas, but he was in real life a part of one famous moment from the film: When Joe Pesci‘s character Tommy DeVito shoots the bartender “Spider” in the foot. In reality, Asaro was reportedly the one who took “Spider” to the hospital.
Now if someone can finally figure out why Scorsese didn’t win the Oscar for the film.
Here’s a clip from Goodfellas which lays out the big plan for the heist:
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