NEW YORK — An alleged Bonanno family mobster was charged Thursday with participating in the legendary $6 million Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport, making him the first mob figure indicted in the 1978 robbery chronicled in the hit movie “Goodfellas.”

Vincent Asaro, 79, a longtime Bonanno captain, became involved in the Lufthansa theft – at the time the largest cash robbery in U.S. history – as a result of a long association with James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, the now-deceased mobster played by Robert De Niro in the movie, the government said.

He participated in “several planning meetings,” said prosecutors, who reported in court filings that they had four cooperating witnesses confirm Asaro’s role, including one direct participant in the robbery who was a cousin of Asaro, and another a former Bonanno boss – almost certainly ex-boss Joe Massino.

The ex-boss, prosecutors said, got an attache case filled with gold and jewelry after the Lufthansa job, and because he was Asaro’s superior, Asaro told him about his role.

Each participant in the robbery was supposed to get a $750,000 share, prosecutors said, but in a 2011 recording Asaro allegedly told an informant that “we never got our right money” and complained that “Jimmy kept everything.”

Asaro, who according to some reports ran a crew that had JFK on its turf in the 1970s, was charged with racketeering for participation in various extortion, murder and robbery activities in addition to the Lufthansa theft, which involved about $5 million in currency and $1 million in jewelry.


Although it was the subject of a book by the late informant Henry Hill and a subsequent movie, no one but a Lufthansa cargo clerk named Louis Werner had been charged until Thursday in the robbery.

In the first activity on the case in years, the FBI last summer dug up human remains during an excavation at the Ozone Park home of Burke, a Lucchese family associate who died in prison in 1996. According to Hill, Burke killed many Lufthansa participants to ensure silence and increase his share.

Asaro, arrested overnight, was the only defendant named in the Lufthansa theft, but four other alleged Bonanno mobsters were charged in other aspects of the case, including Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore of Commack, allegedly the current leader of the family, John “Bazoo” Ragano, Jerome Asaro and Jack Bonventre.

In addition to Lufthansa, Asaro was charged in his racketeering indictment with the 1969 murder of Paul Katz, who was suspected of being an informant. He and Burke told a cooperating witness that Katz was killed “with a dog chain,” prosecutors alleged.

In addition, Asaro is accused of an arson conspiracy; a $1 million armored-car robbery conspiracy; the robbery of $1.25 million in gold salts from Federal Express; and gambling and extortion conspiracies.

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