QUEENS — The alleged mobster charged in connection with the infamous Lufthansa heist received a piece of the $6 million haul because he was the Bonanno crime family's point person for rackets at JFK Airport during the brazen robbery, DNAinfo New York has learned.
But Vincent Asaro, now 78, was not one of the gunmen who participated in the fabled 1978 theft masterminded by his pal, James “Jimmy The Gent” Burke, a murderous mob associate immortalized by actor Robert De Niro as "Jimmy Conway" in Martin Scorsese’s movie “Goodfellas,” the sources said.
“Asaro was their man at JFK, and as a result, was due tribute for everything that was made off the airport, whether it was money or merchandise that went missing,” a top law enforcement official told “On The Inside.” "He had to get a piece of the action...that was the rule, or someone died or there would be hell to pay.”
Last Thursday, Asaro became the first person to be charged in the heist when he and four others, including his son, were arrested on racketeering charges. Most of the crew that actually pulled off the heist were rubbed out by Burke decades ago, sources said.
Asaro allegedly implicated himself in the heist when he was captured on recordings recently made by a new turncoat described only as a cousin of Asaro’s. The informant said he and Asaro both sat in on meetings in the 1970s where Lufthansa plans were discussed.
On one secret recording made in 2011, Asaro groused that Burke ultimately stiffed everyone out of their rightful $750,000 share of the spoils and kept virtually all of the money for himself.
“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 to the unnamed cousin. Most of the money and jewels, in fact, were never recovered.
Back in 1979, Asaro was a far cry from the craggy, gray-haired old man who was handcuffed and led out of New York's FBI headquarters last week. The then-35-year-old alleged Bonanno soldier was a sturdy, stone-faced hood with a criminal record dating back to 1957. He was widely known for his cold-hearted brutality, sources said.
Considered a loyal, strong-armed associate, Asaro was apparently rewarded with the coveted JFK post overseeing lucrative labor, construction and other criminal rackets at the country’s busiest airport.
At the time, only a few insiders could have known that Asaro also made his bones by allegedly committing murder with Burke a decade before Lufthansa.
According to last week’s indictment, Asaro and Burke strangled Paul Katz, a mob associate, with a dog chain in 1969. The feds say Katz owned a warehouse where the mob stashed stolen goods.
When the warehouse was raided by the police, Burke suspected Katz had turned informant, and he and Asaro strangled Katz and buried his body in a home Burke owned in southern Queens.
Last summer, the FBI dug up the basement and recovered remains — a right hand and wrist, hair, teeth, possible soft-tissue fragments and clothing — that were later matched to Katz through DNA testing. It turned out that in the mid-1980s Asaro ordered the body dug up and removed when he learned, apparently through an NYPD snitch, that detectives were looking into Katz’s murder.
But his henchmen apparently botched the job of removing Katz’s body.
On the day the FBI started their dig for Katz, Asaro received a tip from his cousin that the feds were at the house. Asaro twice drove by the dig site before racing into Manhattan to his son’s business and then driving back out to Queens, where he met alleged Bonanno soldier and co-defendant John Ragano, according to court documents. Apparently rattled by the day’s events, he was seen by FBI agents driving “his car into a metal pillar” as he pulled away from Ragano’s place.
Ed McDonald, a former federal prosecutor who played himself in “Goodfellas,” also believes that Asaro was likely not a direct participant in the heist.
McDonald, former head of the feds' Organized Crime Strike Force, said Asaro’s name surfaced on the periphery of the investigation. He remembered Henry Hill, the notorious “rat” whose story was immortalized by writer Nicholas Pileggi in the book “Wiseguy,” which Scorsese turned into “Goodfellas.”
Hill had mentioned Asaro, McDonald recalled, “but not as one of those who did the robbery.”
“The principal was Burke and [Lucchese captain Paul] Vario gave his imprimatur,” said McDonald. The actor Paul Sorvino played Vario in “Goodfellas.”
McDonald also said that members of the various crime families often worked together in that section of New York.
The Lufthansa scheme was crafted after Marty Krugman, a bookie and wig-maker, tipped off Hill about a huge cache of money and jewels that he heard about from airport worker Louis Werner, who owed Krugman $20,000 in gambling debts, according to court documents.
Sources say Asaro also allegedly talked about his connection to the Lufthansa heist with ex-Bonanno chieftain Joseph Massino, who later became the highest ranking mobster to become a government informant.
In addition to ties to the Lufthansa case and Katz’s murder, Asaro is also suspected in a $1.25 million Federal Express robbery and the early-1980s torching of a nightclub called “Afters,” which was named for “after Lufthansa,” the feds claimed in court documents.
In Pileggi’s book, Asaro was described as the owner of “Afters,” where the hoods relocated because of the police attention focused on their other hangout, Robert’s Lounge, where the Lufthansa plot was mapped out. When Asaro sold “Afters” to nightclubbers who were going to reopen and serve a mostly black clientele, the hoods torched the place, according to the feds.
The feds also claimed that Asaro’s son was among those who helped move Katz’s body. But there was bad blood between them, and Asaro was taped trash-talking his son.
“F--k Jerry...Jerry is for Jerry...I lost my son when I made him a skipper,” he said.
Despite his appearance now in one of the most famous and lucrative robberies in American history, the aging captain now facing life behind bars complained about having money woes and falling out of favor with his bosses because of his gambling habit.
Asaro’s lawyer, Gerald McMahon, said he had only a brief visit with his client behinds bars and could only say Asaro intended to fight charges that McMahon claimed are “little more than the government trying to write a sequel for Martin Scorsese.”