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Millions stolen from JFK Airport in infamous 'Lufthansa heist'

Millions stolen from JFK Airport in infamous 'Lufthansa heist'

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On December 11, 1978 half a dozen masked robbers raided the Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at JFK Airport in New York, making off with more than $5 million in cash ($21 million in today's dollars) and almost $1 million in jewelry. To this day, the Lufthansa heist, as it is known, is considered one of the greatest in U.S. history.

The plan was dreamed up by Peter Gruenewald, a Lufthansa cargo worker at JFK Airport. Gruenewald knew that Lufthansa regularly flew large amounts of unmarked cash from Europe—the U.S. currency exchanged overseas by American tourists and servicemen—to JFK. Typically, this money would immediately be transferred to American banks via Brink’s trucks. However, delays sometimes caused the cash delivery to arrive after the last of the trucks had left for the day, which meant it was stored at the airport until the next business day—and vulnerable to theft.

Gruenewald took his plan to fellow cargo worker and friend Louis Werner, in the hopes of putting it in motion. Unfortunately for Gruenewald, Werner saw the robbery as an opportunity to get out from under a mountain of personal gambling debt and double-crossed his friend. He took Gruenewald's plan to a big-time bookmaker in the area, Martin Krugman, who took the idea to his buddy, infamous mobster-turned-movie-consultant Henry Hill.

As depicted in the famous movie Goodfellas, Hill was part of a crew of gangsters run by James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. After years of earning money through nefarious deeds, Jimmy’s crew had become closely associated with the Lucchese crime family, and had amassed a solid reputation in the seedy world of organized crime. Burke and Hill took over the planning for the robbery. Jimmy’s crew was very familiar with JFK. Whenever they needed easy cash, the airport was an easy mark. The crew regularly hijacked trucks from JFK, often taking two or three trucks per week from there for quick money. Whether they were filled with televisions, clothes or food, they knew how to move merchandise to make extra cash.

Burke and Hill assembled a team for the robbery and waited for the word from his inside man, Werner. At about 3:00 A.M. on December 11, a black van loaded with the masked men pulled up to Lufthansa’s storage area. The men entered the building while the getaway van was brought to the back. They burst in, wielding guns, rounding up the night-shift employees and handcuffing them in the break room. The gunmen forced a supervisor to open the 10-by-20 foot vault to avoid setting off alarms. The cash and jewels were loaded into the van, and the crew inconspicuously drove away.

The entire heist took little more than an hour.

Unfortunately, they didn’t exactly get away free and clear. Rather than take the van to get crushed in a mob-controlled junk yard the night of the robbery, getaway driver Parnell Steven “Stacks” Edwards got drunk and left it parked illegally on the street in Brooklyn, where it was found with his fingerprints and footprint in the interior. Burke decided to cut the ties between Edwards and his crew, and the driver became the first suspect in the crime to be murdered. As Burke got more and more paranoid—and greedy for a larger share of the copious amounts of cash taken in the heist—the dominos began to fall fairly quickly. Krugman was the next to go, disappearing on January 6, 1979. By the summer of that year, eight men associated with the robbery were dead or missing.

Unable to connect anything to Jimmy and Henry’s crew, and with mobster bodies piling up, the FBI turned its attention to the inside man—Louis Werner. With help from testimony from Gruenewald, Werner was convicted for his role in the heist, but refused to cooperate or give up his co-conspirators. It seemed the Bureau would never solve the case, or bring to justice those involved.

“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill and a license to do whatever they wanted,” said George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge, in the New York field office in a comment to Reuters.

The biggest break in the investigation finally came in the spring of 1980, when Hill was arrested on six drug-related counts. It wasn’t long before he had “flipped,” convinced by the FBI to testify against not only Burke, but Lucchese family underboss Paul Vario as well. Hill’s testimony led to Burke’s conviction on two separate counts—a basketball points-shaving scheme and an unrelated murder—and “Jimmy the Gent” died in prison in 1996. Vario was convicted of racketeering and died in prison in 1988.

Only a portion of the stolen money was ever recovered.

‘Goodfellas,’ the Sequel? 4 Arrested in $6 Million Heist at J.F.K. Airport

The men used fake paperwork to steal more than 4,000 Prada, Gucci and Chanel items from a cargo area at the airport, prosecutors say.

The man walked into an office at Kennedy International Airport with paperwork that showed the flight information and serial numbers he needed to pick up an expensive shipment. Everything appeared to be in order, and he drove off with a truckload of Prada.

But the bags, clothing and jewelry never made it to their destination. Instead, they were taken to a defunct beauty shop in Queens, prosecutors said.

On Wednesday, the man, David Lacarriere, and two others appeared in court to face charges in a 22-count indictment in one of the largest heists in the history of J.F.K. airport. Prosecutors said they stole $6 million worth of luxury goods in two thefts — the second more brazen than the first — that had echoes of the famous Lufthansa robbery in 1978 that played a starring role in the film “Goodfellas.”

It turned out the men had used fake paperwork to cart off more than 4,000 real pieces of luxury merchandise, prosecutors said. They were caught in June when the police raided the Candi World Beauty Bar, the closed salon where the stolen merchandise was stashed, and interrupted a sale, prosecutors said.

“After months of free spending and probably thinking that they had gotten away with these audacious heists,” said Melinda Katz, the Queens County district attorney, “all six defendants have been indicted.”

Prosecutors said they stole $804,000 worth of Prada merchandise in January, and then in May, they hauled off $5.3 million in other high-end accessories, from Gucci sneakers and socks to Chanel espadrilles, necklaces and handbags.

Seth Koslow, a lawyer for Mr. Lacarriere, 33, said on Friday that the charges were a “surprise” to Mr. Lacarriere.

“He didn’t know this was coming,” Mr. Koslow said. “We intend to fight this.”

Lawyers for the other men charged in the scheme could not be reached.

Prosecutors gave few details about how the men came together to pull off the alleged thefts, but Mr. Lacarriere and another defendant, Gary McArthur, 43, had both previously worked as truck drivers at J.F.K. Davon Davis, the other man who appeared in court on Wednesday, had worked at Delta Airlines.

All three men pleaded not guilty in State Supreme Court in Queens on Wednesday. They face a slew of charges including grand larceny, conspiracy, possession of stolen property and possession of a forged instrument.

In 2016, Mr. Lacarriere pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal about $700,000 worth of Chanel and Hermes clothing, jewelry and bags, among other items, from Newark Liberty International Airport.

That case was strikingly similar to the most recent scheme: The authorities said Mr. Lacarriere and another man used a forged document to enter a cargo area at the airport in New Jersey and drive a truckload of merchandise to a facility near Kennedy Airport.

When the owners of the Chanel and Hermes goods came to pick them up, the airport realized they were missing and tracked the truck through a GPS device.

Mr. Lacarriere spent about a year in New Jersey State Prison before his release in January 2018, according to state records.

About two years later, he and Mr. McArthur showed up at the business office of an airport cargo warehouse, officials said. Before arriving, Mr. Lacarriere had falsified an airport document listing specific package information and serial numbers, which prosecutors described as a sophisticated and complicated forgery.

The men, enlisting the help of two others, then used a separate tractor-trailer to load four large pallets of Prada merchandise onto their truck, officials said. Less than four months later, the men returned for the higher stakes version of their theft, presenting another set of forged paperwork.

After both trips to Kennedy International, prosecutors said the men later abandoned the trucks on roads, drenched them in bleach and took the merchandise to Candi World.

When the police raided the salon in June, officers discovered hundreds of stacked boxes filled with merchandise, still neatly wrapped in the manufacturers’ packaging and bags.

During the raid, the police interrupted a sale to Alan Vu, 51, prosecutors said. Mr. Vu was arrested in New Jersey on charges of criminal possession of stolen property and conspiracy, and is awaiting transfer to New York. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Matthew Wilson, chief of the Port Authority Criminal Investigations Bureau, called the case “an anomaly” on Friday, saying the defendants had been elaborate in their planning and the investigation had taken time as a result.

“It doesn’t happen that often,” Mr. Wilson said.

Ms. Katz said J.F.K. has added new protocols for cargo pickups, including additional identification requirements and photographing of truck drivers. She said the situation underscores the need to continue closely monitoring security at one of the world’s busiest airports.

“My theory is if you can get things out of the airport, you can also get things in,” Ms. Katz said. “So this is part of an ongoing security check to make sure our air travel is safe and that people are confident.”

Mobster who ratted on cousin in 'Goodfellas' heist gets probation

More than 35 years after the infamous Lufthansa heist at JFK Airport, the feds have finally busted a “Goodfella.”

An aging mob captain from Queens was charged Thursday with scheming to steal nearly $6 million in cash and jewelry in the fabled, 1978 rip-off depicted in the classic Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas.”

Court papers say Vincent Asaro, 78, of Howard Beach, took part in “several planning meetings” with the caper’s mastermind, James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, portrayed by Robert De Niro as Jimmy Conway in the 1990 film.

Thomas ‘Tommy D’ Di Fiore is walked by FBI agents outside Manhattan Federal Court. William Farrington

Although Burke was an associate of the Luchese crime family, he was a close crony of Asaro, who the feds say is a longtime Bonanno captain and member of its ruling “administration.”

The Bonannos controlled part of JFK at the time of the robbery, and Burke “had to give up a share” to Asaro “to maintain the peace,” author Nick Pileggi wrote in “Wiseguy,” on which “Goodfellas” was based.

The Lufthansa plot was hatched when bookie and wig-shop owner Marty Krugman (the Morrie Kessler character in the movie) told Luchese associate Henry Hill about a huge stash of cash and jewels that routinely passed through the airport — a tip he got from airport worker Louis Werner, who owed the bookie $20,000.

John Rangano is walked by FBI agents outside Manhattan Federal Court. William Farrington

Burke’s crew struck just after 3 a.m. Dec. 11, 1978, pistol-whipping a cargo agent and tying up 10 workers before forcing a security guard to open the double-door that protected the loot.

As recounted in the film, most of the crew later got rubbed out by Burke or under his orders, and papers filed in Brooklyn federal court say that while everyone involved was supposed to pocket $750,000, “most did not live to receive their share,” either because they were killed first or it was never given to them.

“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 griped in 2011, according to a recording made by a mob rat that is part of the evidence against Asaro.

The cooperator, who is identified in court papers as Asaro’s cousin, was also present during the Lufthansa planning sessions with Burke, Asaro and others, the court documents say.

Vincent Asaro in an undated mugshot

Asaro is notable for having been in Robert’s Lounge when bartender Michael “Spider” Gianco was shot in the foot — a scene memorably recreated in “Goodfellas” as Joe Pesci’s character shoots “Spider,” played by future “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli.

“He’s the one who brought Spider to the hospital,” a law-enforcement source said of Asaro.

Asaro allegedly admitted his involvement in the Lufthansa job to ex-Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, who later became America’s highest-ranking Mafia turncoat and is a witness against Asaro, sources said.

Warning: Videos contain explicit language

Outside court Thursday, Asaro’s attorney, veteran mob lawyer Gerry McMahon, said his client — who was ordered jailed pending a bail hearing — “categorically” denied the charges.

“This is the sequel to ‘Goodfellas,’” McMahon quipped. “Marty Scorsese needs a new script, and the US Attorney’s Office is giving it to them.”

But FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said after Thursday’s arrests, “It may be decades later, but the FBI’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver.”

In addition to the Lufthansa heist, Asaro was charged in 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.

Katz disappeared in 1969 after Asaro and others were busted at a warehouse where Katz let thieves stash stolen merchandise, court papers say. Asaro and Burke allegedly strangled Katz with a dog chain then buried his body under a house being built at the time.

In the mid-1980s, Asaro ordered the corpse dug up and moved after Burke, who had a network of corrupt cops on his payroll, learned that an NYPD detective was looking into Katz’s disappearance, according to papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

But the job was botched, and FBI agents pulled out “multiple human bones, including an entire right hand and wrist, hair, teeth, possible soft-tissue fragments and clothing” after digging up the basement in July. DNA tied the remains to Katz, court papers say.

On the day the feds started digging, Asaro’s turncoat cousin gave him a heads-up as they rode in a car together, the papers say. Asaro then headed to a Bonanno associate’s towing business, got into another car and was driven to the dig site.

After passing by twice to eyeball the scene, Asaro drove to his son’s business in Manhattan, then returned to the towing business and was spotted talking to Bonanno soldier and co-defendant John Ragano.

Asaro was apparently so rattled that when he tried to leave, court papers say, “agents observed him drive into a metal pillar.”

His other alleged crimes include ordering the early-1980s firebombing of a mobbed-up bar on Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park, Afters, which the feds say “was named for ‘after Lufthansa.’ ”

In “Wiseguy,” Asaro is described as the owner of a bar on Rockaway Boulevard that “everyone moved to” after “the Lufthansa heat got to be too much” at former hangout Robert’s Lounge, where the Lufthansa plot was hatched.

When Afters was sold to new owners who planned to open a social club catering to a black clientele, the bigoted owner of a nearbv business complained and Asaro had his cousin and son burn it down “so that the new business could not open,” court papers say.

Asaro was among five reputed Bonannos busted Thursday on a sweeping racketeering indictment, including his son Jerome — who allegedly helped move Katz’s body — and Thomas “Tommy D” Di Fiore, identified in court papers as the current “boss” of the now-depleted crime family.

Prosecutors say they have “overwhelming” evidence against the defendants, including secret recordings in which Asaro was caught bad-mouthing his own son, a reputed Bonanno captain to whom Asaro had to report while temporarily demoted.

“F–k Jerry. F–k him in his ass . . . I lost my son when I made him a skipper,” he was recorded saying.

Asaro also called Di Fiore a “cheap scumbag . . . from Long Island” after the mobster was put in charge of the Bonannos in 2012.

Also charged was reputed acting captain Jack Bonventre.

Additional reporting by Bob Fredericks, Lorena Mongelli and Erin Calabrese

Millions stolen from JFK Airport in infamous 'Lufthansa heist' - HISTORY

ATI Composite Portraits of the real-life characters featured in Goodfellas, who were behind the 1978 heist.

In today’s world of omnipresent surveillance, especially at the airports, it’s difficult to imagine that New York was once a land of opportunity for anyone with the nerve to knock over the city’s top-dollar targets. And the largest of these by far was the 1978 Lufthansa heist, which was also perhaps the most valuable crime ever committed in the name of the American Mafia.

The heist was largely orchestrated by Louis Werner, an employee of the german Lufthansa airline with a severe gambling problem. Werner and his co-worker, Peter Gruenwald, had long been planning to steal millions in unmarked banknotes from one of Lufthansa’s regular shipments of cash.

Unfortunately for Gruenwald, Werner told his bookie, Martin Krugman, about the heist which he intended to use in order to pay off his $20,000 gambling debt to him.

Krugman then took the information to his acquaintance, Henry Hill, who worked closely with Krugman’s friend Jimmy “the Gent” Burke, a feared associate of the Lucchese crime family and a proficient robber. Burke offered to organize the heist on behalf of his patrons in return for a sizable cut.

Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, also known as “the Big Irishman.” Burke could never become a full member of the Mafia as he wasn’t of full Italian descent, despite pulling off what may have been the biggest single score in the history of the mob.

Burke sent a handpicked crew of associates, including his son Frank and the dangerously violent Tommy DeSimone, and went off to the Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the early hours of Dec. 11, 1978.

In just over an hour, the crew took six employees hostage and stole nearly $6 million in untraceable cash and jewelry — with a combined value of roughly $23.4 million today.

The heist had gone off perfectly, but the plot came undone when their getaway driver, Edward “Stacks” Parnell, messed up. Rather than taking the Ford Econoline van they used in the heist to a mob-owned scrapyard in New Jersey, Parnell left it parked in front of his girlfriend’s house in Canarsie, Brooklyn.

Mary DiBiase/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images The van used during the Lufthansa heist, as seen just after the robbery on Dec. 14, 1978.

The oversight sent Burke into a paranoid frenzy. He ordered the murders of all but five of the 13 participants to cover his tracks. Burke and Hill did eventually go to prison but on charges unrelated to the Lufthansa heist.

In the end, the only person to serve time for the heist was Louis Werner, who spent 15 years behind bars for tipping Burke and his gang off. Only a small portion of the stolen money was ever recovered, and the fate of the rest of the fortune may never be known.

Feds Crack Notorious 1978 Lufthansa Heist at JFK Airport Spurred by Jewish Bookie

Five people said to be part of a New York crime family were arrested on Thursday, including a 78-year-old man accused of participating in a notorious 1978 airport heist that inspired the movie “Goodfellas.”

More than three decades after $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry was stolen from a Lufthansa airlines cargo building at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the FBI arrested Vincent Asaro, an alleged leader of the Bonanno organized crime family, on robbery charges.

Four other men, who prosecutors said were members of the New York-based gang, were arrested for other crimes.

The infamous crime was spurred by a tip by a Jewish bookmaker. And a key break in the case came when the feds recently found the remains of another Jewish reputed gangster buried at a mobster’s property. He died when he was strangled by a dog chain after fellow mob associates suspected he was a stool pigeon.

“Vincent Asaro devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in a statement. “Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro’s ruthless ways, as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months.”

At the time of the JFK caper, the currency was being shipped to a U.S. bank from West Germany and the theft was the biggest cash heist ever in the United States. The stolen $5 million in cash would be worth $17.9 million in 2013 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted,” said George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge, in the New York field office.

“It may be decades later, but the FBI’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver,” he said.


Robert De Niro played James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, in “Goodfellas,” the popular 1990 Martin Scorcese movie adapted from the non-fiction book “Wiseguy.” Burke was affiliated with the rival Lucchese crime family and the suspected mastermind of the brazen crime that stumped investigators for decades.

“A lot of the main characters, like Burke, either died, disappeared or were murdered,” said Anthony DeStefano, a veteran New York crime reporter and author of the 2013 book “Vinny Gorgeous: The Ugly Rise and Fall of a New York Mobster.”

A break in the case came after an FBI investigation of a New York property tied to Burke last summer turned up human remains. Burke himself died in prison in 1996 while serving time for the murder of a drug dealer.

The Thursday indictment charges Asaro with the murder of Paul Katz in 1969, as well as robbery, conspiracy and other crimes tied to the 1978 heist.

Asaro and Burke strangled Katz with a dog chain because they thought he was cooperating with investigators, prosecutors said. His body was first buried in the basement of a vacant house in the New York borough of Queens and later moved to the location where it was found last summer, they said.


Court papers filed in New York charge Asaro with four criminal counts, including robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, in connection with the Lufthansa heist.

He is also charged racketeering and extortion for other alleged criminal activity.

Vincent Asaro and his son, Jerome Asaro, 55, are charged with stealing $1.25 million in gold salts from a Federal Express employee in February 1984. They are also accused of robbery conspiracy in the theft of $1 million from an armored car in the mid-1980s.

Three others defendants, Jack Bonventre, 45 Thomas “Tommy D” Di Fiore, 70 and John “Bazoo” Ragano, 52, are charged with multiple crimes, including racketeering and extortion, unrelated to the Lufthansa heist, officials said.

Attorneys for the indicted suspects were not immediately available for comment.

The five men were due to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Much of the money from the 1978 heist has not been recovered, said DeStefano, who writes for Newsday: “Some of it went up the chain in tribute to the Luccheses, some of it went to Burke and his businesses and some of it is still unaccounted for.”

The original plot was hatched after bookmaker Martin Krugman tipped off mobsters about the untraceable millions. The Jewish bookie was later murdered.

Jimmy Burke endured a rough childhood which contributed to his criminal behavior later in life 

On the other hand, Brooklyn gangster Jimmy Burke delighted in murder and was responsible for several of the corpses that Hill had to bury. In his 2003 memoir, A Goodfellas Guide to New York, Hill said that Burke had the bodies buried locally, scattering them underneath houses, bocce ball courts and even his own bar. Burke was known as “Jimmy the Gent” because he was always passing out wads of cash and big tips to everyone in the neighborhood, but the nickname also contained more than a trace of irony.

Burke had a rough childhood. The first 13 years of his life consisted mostly of repetitive abuse from the foster families he lived with after his mother put him in an orphanage at the age of 2. While he eventually found loving adoptive parents, the mold had been cast. After so many years of absorbing beatings and fending for himself, Burke spent most of his teenage and early 20s alternately committing crimes and doing time in prison.

In the years that followed, he began working for both the Lucchese and Colombo crime families. The fact that he was Irish American made it impossible for him to be a full member or rise up the ranks in either group — only Italians could earn that privilege — but he commanded his own squad of loyal soldiers. He too got in on the drug game over time, though stealing was his true favorite past time.

Indictment in notorious 1978 JFK Lufthansa heist

NEW YORK (AP) — More than 30 years after the crime, a mobster was indicted Thursday in the $6 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport that was dramatized in the Martin Scorsese movie "Goodfellas."

Federal prosecutors issued a wide-ranging indictment against five defendants, alleging murder, robbery, extortion, arson and bookmaking. One of them, Vincent Asaro, of Howard Beach in Queens, was accused of participating in the Dec. 11, 1978, heist — one of the largest cash thefts in American history.

Hooded gunmen invaded the airline's cargo terminal and stole about $5 million in untraceable U.S. currency being returned to the United States from Germany. The cash was never found. Authorities say jewelry worth about $1 million also was taken.

Asaro is an alleged captain in the Bonanno crime family. Information on his attorney was not immediately available. All five defendants were in custody and awaiting court appearances.

In June, FBI investigators descended on a Queens neighborhood where it's believed the robbery was planned.

FBI agents with jackhammers and shovels dug beneath a house once occupied by the gangster who inspired Robert De Niro's character in "Goodfellas."

James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, a late Lucchese crime family associate, is said to have buried victims in familiar places — including under a nearby saloon he ran.

It was in that neighborhood that Burke allegedly masterminded the Lufthansa robbery.

The reputed mobster owned Robert's Lounge, the saloon that a fellow Lucchese associate, the late Henry Hill, described as Burke's private cemetery. "Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies . under the bocce courts," Hill wrote in his book, "A Goodfella's Guide to New York."

In June 1980, a human leg bone and a portion of a human shoulder bone were excavated from the saloon's basement.

The lounge was purportedly a mob hangout where the airport robbery is said to have been planned by a mobster so accomplished that crime writer Nicholas Pileggi dubbed him a "criminal savant."

FBI Arrests Reputed Mobsters Linked To 1978 'GoodFellas' Heist

Reputed Bonanno crime family leader Vincent Asaro, 78, is escorted by FBI agents from their Manhattan offices in New York on Thursday.

The FBI nabbed five alleged mobsters in a series of predawn raids in New York on Thursday in connection with the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist that netted $6 million in cash and jewels and that inspired the film GoodFellas.

Among those arrested was Vincent Asaro, 78, who is allegedly a ranking member of the Bonanno crime family. He was seized at his home in Queens, N.Y. Reputed mob underboss Thomas "Tommy D" DiFiore of Long Island, N.Y., also was taken into custody, according to ABC News.

The New York Times says the indictment against the five "reads like a greatest hits collection of the Mafia: armored truck heists, murder, attempted murder, extortion and bookmaking. But the crime that garnered the most attention was the Lufthansa robbery, where a group of robbers stole about $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewels from a Lufthansa cargo building [at JFK airport] in December 1978 — the largest cash robbery in the nation's history at the time."

In today's dollars, the heist would be worth $20 million. ABC says it "led to a massive, years-long investigative effort that ultimately proved fruitless as wiseguys and their associates believed involved in the robbery disappeared or died at the hands of nervous crime bosses."

USA Today says the robbers, "using information provided by an airport worker, stole millions of U.S. currency that was part of a monthly shipment via Lufthansa to then-West Germany where it was used in monetary exchanges serving military servicemen and tourists."

"It took some half-dozen masked gunman 64 minutes to steal the packets of cash, toss them into a van and escape," the newspaper adds.

"The roundup had been quietly in the works for months and stems from the FBI's surprise decision last June to search for evidence at the home of the late Mafia associate James 'Jimmy the Gent' Burke in Queens. Acting on new information from a source, agents found human remains after digging in and around the home still owned by Burke's daughter, agents said.

"DNA tests matched the remains to Paul Katz, who disappeared in 1969 after Burke and his henchmen found reason to believe Katz was working with law enforcement. Investigators believe that Katz was strangled with a chain and then buried at a vacant home elsewhere in Queens, sources told ABC News.

"Katz's remains were allegedly moved to Burke's basement after the mobsters got spooked by a separate probe.

Burke, the inspiration for Robert DeNiro's 'Jimmy Conway' character in Goodfellas, died in 1996 while serving time for a different killing. The feds believe that Burke was the mastermind of the Lufthansa Heist and was responsible for killing off almost anyone who could directly connect him to the notorious caper."

Former Lufthansa cargo agent recalls infamous ‘Goodfellas’ heist at Vincent Asaro trial

"Do what we tell you, we don't want to hurt you," a former Lufthansa cargo agent recalled a gunman telling him.

Testifying Tuesday at the trial of the Bonanno hood accused of pulling off the biggest heist in U.S. history, Rolf Rebmann said the robbers punished his co-worker Kerry Whalen when he tried to sound the alarm.

"One of them stepped over me and hit Kerry. He said, 'There is the guy who hollered and tried to run,'" Rebmann testified. "They asked for our wallets and car keys and told us to 'Stay and don't get up.' They said, 'We have your wallets and we know where you live'"

An Alleged 'Goodfella' Gets Indicted, Decades Later

More than 30 years after the crime, authorities in New York have charged an alleged mobster in connection with the Lufthansa heist at JFK Airport. At the time, it was the biggest robbery in US history. It's still one of the most famous, thanks to the film, Goodfellas.

Early this morning, FBI agents in and around New York arrested five men in connection with a number of unsolved crimes. At the top of that list is the infamous 1978 Lufthansa robbery at Kennedy International Airport. Law enforcement officials have long suspected that the mob was behind it. And today, more than 30 years later, they finally charged a reputed mobster in connection with the case. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The indictment reads like the plot of a mob movie: murder, arson, extortion and the $6-million heist at Kennedy Airport. Actually, that last part is the plot of a mob movie.


ROSE: Martin Scorsese film "Goodfellas" is based on the Lufthansa heist. In December of 1978, armed gunmen really did break into the cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport. They got away with $5 million in cash and another million in jewelry. At the time, it was the biggest robbery in U.S. history. Here's how it went down in the movie.


ROSE: Only one man, a Lufthansa airport worker, was convicted. No alleged mobsters were ever charged, until today when prosecutors unsealed an indictment against Vinny Asaro, a reputed mobster with ties to the storied Bonanno crime family. The FBI declined to comment on today's arrests, but they did connect us with Steve Carbone, the agent who led the case in the 1970s and '80s and is now retired.

STEVE CARBONE: It wasn't like we didn't know. I mean, we knew who did this job two days later.

ROSE: Carbone says the FBI had long suspected that Asaro was involved, along with Jimmy Burke, who was the basis for Robert de Niro's character in "Goodfellas." They could never find enough evidence to charge either of them. Burke was later convicted of murder and died in prison. But retired agent Carbone says all the witnesses who could have tied him to the Lufthansa heist were either dead or terrified.

CARBONE: Right after, we put up, I think, $100,000 reward for information and nobody called. Nobody. Not one call. I'll tell you the truth, I never expected this. I mean, it seemed like it was dead.

ROSE: Alleged mobster Vinny Asaro is also charged with strangling Paul Katz, a suspected police informant who disappeared in 1969. His remains were discovered last summer at a home in Queens that used to belong to Jimmy Burke. Asaro pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Four other alleged members of the Bonanno crime family were arrested this morning on a range of other charges, including bookmaking and extortion. All five were arraigned today in Brooklyn. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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