Alleged Mobster Indicted in 1970s ‘Goodfellas’ Heist
Federal authorities have arrested five alleged Mafia members, including one man they said was involved in the legendary 1978 heist of more than $5 million from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Vincent Asaro, 78, his son Jerome, 55, and associates Jack Bonventre, 45, Thomas Di Fiore, 70, and John Ragano, 52, all belong to the New York-based Bonanno organized crime family, according to an indictment unsealed Jan. 23. The elder Asaro is accused of the most wide-ranging and serious crimes, including the Lufthansa heist and the 1969 slaying of Paul Katz.
On Dec. 11, 1978, hooded gunmen raided the airline’s cargo terminal at JFK and stole roughly $5 million in untraceable U.S. currency and another $1 million in jewelry, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The heist, believed to be one of the largest cash thefts in U.S. history, was depicted in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.” Robert DeNiro played Jimmy Conway, a character based on James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, the reputed mastermind of the theft. Burke was in prison for an unrelated murder when he died of cancer in 1996. Only a fraction of the money and jewels, estimated to be worth $20 million today, was recovered and many of those believed to be involved in the crime have since died, according to media reports.
In June 2013, investigators conducted a dig at Burke’s former residence in Queens, N.Y., and found Katz’s remains. Burke was known for burying his victims in familiar places, according to the AP. Vincent Asaro is charged in the killing “with others,” and he and his son are accused of being accessories after the fact for helping those involved avoid prosecution in the 1980s, according to the indictment.
The New York Post has reported that Katz disappeared in 1969 and that Burke suspected him of being a police informant. The indictment offered no additional details about Katz’s slaying or of the Lufthansa heist.
The Asaros are also accused of the February 1984 theft of $1.25 million in gold salts from a Federal Express employee, according to the indictment. Other charges against the men include bookmaking, solicitation for murder, extortion and the attempted robbery of an armored car company in the mid-1980s.
Bonventre, Di Fiore and Ragano are charged only in more recent crimes, which include bookmaking and extortion. The Post reported that Di Fiore was the “highest-ranking Bonanno family member not behind bars,” while labeling Ragano a “soldier” and Bonventre an “acting captain.”
“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said in a statement. “However, today’s arrests of the five members of the Bonanno crime family brings an end to their violent and ruthless ways.”