Alleged mobster arrested in Lufthansa heist that inspired ‘Goodfellas’

Federal agents on Thursday arrested an alleged mobster on charges he took part in the infamous heist at a Lufthansa terminal at John F. Kennedy airport in 1978, a crime that netted the thieves about $6 million in cash and jewels and inspired Martin Scorsese’s film “Goodfellas.”

Vincent Asaro, 78, was one of five alleged mobsters taken into custody and is the only one specifically accused of participating in the Lufthansa case. The men, all alleged members of the Bonanno crime family, were expected to appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon on a variety of charges.

Asaro is specifically charged with racketeering in connection with the heist, and with the unrelated 1969 murder of Paul Katz, according to court documents. Katz’s remains were not discovered until last June.

The heist was legendary for the amount plundered -- a record at the time -- and for the fact that most of it was never recovered. Most of those suspected of involvement met violent ends, including several allegedly killed by the heist’s suspected mastermind, James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke.


Burke -- the inspiration for the character played by Robert DeNiro in “Goodfellas” -- went on a killing rampage after the holdup as he sought to eliminate anyone who might tie him to the case. He died in prison in 1996 while serving time in a case not related to the heist.

Burke also was suspected of ordering the killing of Katz, years before the heist, when he began to suspect Katz of being an informant for law enforcement. Investigators, acting on a tip, last June dug up Katz’s remains beneath the Queens home still owned by Burke’s family.

The holdup took place on Dec. 11, 1978, after Burke learned of untraceable cash flown into New York from West Germany and stashed in a vault at JFK. The thieves took a little more than an hour to toss about $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry into their getaway car.

Today, the cash would amount to nearly $18 million.

Asaro was arrested at his home in Queens and walked with his head bowed, his hands cuffed in front of him, as he was led to a van for his first court appearance.


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