Federal agents in New York City have arrested five people, including an elderly mobster, partially in connection with the famed 1978 Lufthansa cargo terminal robbery at Kennedy International Airport -- a heist made famous by the classic gangster movie “Goodfellas” by director Martin Scorsese.
The New York Post reported that a series a pre-dawn raids nabbed Vincent Asaro, a 78-year-old wiseguy associated with the Bonanno crime family in Howard Beach, Queens, near the airport, as well as Thomas "Tommy D" DiFiore, the reputed underboss of the Bonannos. (DiFiore and the other three defendants were apparently not charged in connection with the JFK robbery, but for other crimes).
The Post said that Asaro, allegedly a high-ranking member of the Bonannos, will be arraigned in federal court and charged with racketeering in connection with the JFK theft from 35 years ago. That robbery, which netted $5 million in U.S. currency and $1 million in jewels, was reportedly the largest theft in U.S. history up until that time.
However, the principals behind the Lufthansa episode, including James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke and others, were largely associated with the Lucchese crime family -- another of the so-called "Five Families" of New York. Federal agents said that Asaro was involved with the heist since at the time he was in charge of mob activities at Kennedy, which represented a lucrative target for theft given the large amounts of cash and other valuables that regularly went through the airport.
Louis Werner, an airport worker who had provided the mobsters with insider information on the Lufthansa cargo, was the only other person arrested in connection with the grand theft. Reportedly, Burke killed most or all of the other co-conspirators to prevent them from cooperating with the police.
FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser said that Thursday’s raids were the result of a search conducted by agents at Burke’s former home in Queens last June. Agents found human remains buried under the property, which turned out to be those of a man named Paul Katz, a drug dealer who had vanished in 1969 -- apparently killed on orders of Burke over suspicions he cooperated with police.
Burke is believed to have murdered dozens of people over his long criminal career and even buried some victims under his own home.
It is unclear yet how that search of Burke’s home led the FBI to Asaro.
Burke died in prison in 1996 while serving time for a murder conviction unrelated to the Lufthansa heist.
The JFK heist played a key turning point in the 1990 film “Goodfellas,” which was based on the life story of Henry Hill, a low-level Lucchese associate who did not participate in the Lufthansa robbery, but was close to Burke. (Since both Burke and Hill were of full or partial Irish descent, they were barred from full membership in the Mafia).
Burke was depicted as "Jimmy Conway" in the movie and portrayed by Robert DeNiro, while the role of Hill made Ray Liotta an instant star. Hill died in June 2012, decades after he became a cooperating witness for the FBI and testified against dozens of his former friends and associates, including Burke and Paul Vario, a powerful Lucchese capo.
Joe Pesci also became a star with his unforgettable portrayal of psychopathic killer "Tommy DeVito," who was based on real-life mobster Tommy DeSimone, another associate of the Lucchese crime family.
As for Vincent Asaro, he is the nephew of Michael "Mickey Z" Zaffarano, a Bonanno capo who was heavily involved in the hardcore porn industry in Times Square and elsewhere in the 1970s. Zaffarano died of a heart attack in February 1980 in his office as FBI agents came to arrest him.
One of Zaffarano’s principal underlings was a Bonanno solider named Anthony Mirra, who played a dominant role in the controversy surrounding "Donnie Brasco," the FBI undercover agent (real name: Joseph Pistone) who infiltrated the Bonanno family and remained in subterfuge there for six years. Mirra eventually paid for his links to Brasco with his own life in 1982. (The movie version of "Donnie Brasco" which starred Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, strangely did not include Mirra).