US & Canada

'Mobster' charged in Lufthansa 'Goodfellas' cash robbery

Vincent Asaro is escorted by FBI agents from their Manhattan offices in New York 23 January 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prosecutors say Vincent Asaro is a top-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family

An alleged member of an infamous New York mob family has been charged with stealing $5m (£3m) from the Lufthansa terminal at JFK airport in 1978.

The crime, among the largest cash heists in US history, was dramatised in the 1990 movie Goodfellas.

Vincent Asaro, 78, his son Jerome and three others were charged with crimes dating as far back as 1968 - murder, arson, extortion, robbery and more.

The Asaros pleaded not guilty in a New York court on Thursday.

On 11 December 1978, hooded gunmen rushed into Lufthansa Airlines' cargo terminal at New York's JFK airport and stole $5m in US currency being transported to a Manhattan Bank from West Germany, as well as $1m in jewellery.

Investigators said the thieves were familiar with the cargo building's layout, including the location of the high-value storage room, and addressed several Lufthansa employees by name.

The cash was never found.

Mr Asaro, an allegedly high-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family, was arrested on Thursday and charged in federal court in New York with the robbery.

He is also charged with a 1969 murder, extortion and illegal gambling.


The indictment charges him and Jerome Asaro, accused of being a "captain" in the Bonanno family, with the theft of $1.25m in gold salts from Federal Express, a US freight service.

Vincent Asaro and Jack Bonventre, another alleged Bonanno associate, are charged with illegal gambling.

In addition, the Asaros, Thomas DiFiore and John Ragano are charged with a litany of crimes between them including racketeering, extortion, arson and murder solicitation.

The Asaros were ordered held without bail in federal court on Thursday.

Gerald McMahon, Vincent Asaro's lawyer, later told reporters his client had been framed by gangsters, including former Bonanno crime boss Joseph Massino.

"[Mr Massino] is one of the worst witnesses I've ever seen," Mr McMahon said, adding that his client had insisted he will not plead guilty to charges against him.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in New York says authorities have had difficulty bringing charges in the case over the years, largely because so many people suspected of involvement in the heist were killed by nervous mobsters.

Just two years after the robbery, the New York Times reported at least six murder victims were believed to have been connected with the case.

A cargo agent for the airline with gambling debts was the only person ever convicted in connection to the crime.

In June, FBI investigators descended on a neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens where they believed the robbery was planned.

The agency believed James Burke, a now-deceased Lucchese crime family associate who inspired Robert De Niro's character in Goodfellas, masterminded the heist.

Investigators used jackhammers and shovels to dig beneath Burke's house.