Today, Thursday Jan. 23, 2014, five men were arrested who are said to have had involvement with the Lufthansa heist of Dec. 1978 at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. The members of this heist got away with $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels that are valued at $20 million today. Many people may be familiar with this heist from the plot of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film, “Goodfellas.” This heist is considered one of the largest cash thefts in history, and it has taken nearly 36 years for Federal officials to lock down any real suspects.
Five defendants were Federal prosecutors through an indictment Thursday morning on a number of charges. The New York Times describes the indictment as reading like the greatest hits of a mobster compilation piece with such charges as a truck heist, attempted murder, murder, extortion, robbery, arson, and bookmaking. Among the five that were arrested, Vincent Asaro, a 78-year-old man from Howard Beach in Queens, accused of involvement with the heist. Jerome Asaro (Vincent Asaro’s son), Thomas “Tommy D” Fiore, Jack Bonventre, and John “Bazoo” Ragano who were all taken in, and are being suspected as members of the Bonanno crime family. These five were brought into the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, and were arrested due to their suspected association with the Lufthansa heist.
According to Fox News, Kelly Langmesser, an FBI spokesperson, told the public that Vincent Asaro was arrested in relation to officials finding human remains after investigating a home in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, which is now owned by James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke’s daughter. The DNA identified the remains as belonging to Paul Katz, who disappeared in 1969 after he was suspected of being a police informant. The accusation initiated a criminal case and Asaro’s involvement pinpoints him as Katz’s alleged murderer. His son, Jerome Asaro, was implicated as his accomplice by assisting in covering up the murder and hindering the investigation into Katz’s death.
Burke was considered the head honcho in the operation, but he died of cancer in 1996 while serving time for a murder conviction. While in prison, Burke was tried and convicted in the slaying of a drug dealer, Richard Eaton. These arrests made in relation to the 1978 Lufthansa heist have been as a result of a series of investigations into unsolved crimes spanning the last 20 to 30 years.
In the mid-1980s, Henry Hill (whose character is featured in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” played by Ray Liotta) was an associate in the Lucchese organized crime family and admitted to involvement with the Lufthansa heist. He was then quickly taken into a witness protection program. The New York Times reports that by the time Hill started cooperating at least six people with alleged connections to the robbery were dead.
Fox News reports that these are the first big arrests that federal investigators have made in the Lufthansa heist. Since the 1978 heist, the only other person arrested was Louis Werner, an airport worker who aided the mobsters in the raid and helped them escape the terminals. To this day, only a fraction of the cash and jewels have been recovered from the heist.
By Sarah Widger