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Alleged Bonanno Crime Family Member Charged In 1978 Lufthansa Heist

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More than 35 years after the 1978 Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport, an alleged member of the Bonanno crime family has been charged in the case.

Vincent Asaro, 78, of Howard Beach, Queens, is an alleged captain in the Bonanno crime family. As CBS 2’s John Slattery reported Thursday evening, Asaro was arrested on charges of murder, racketeering, extortion, arson, robbery and other charges, authorities said.

Court papers revealed four informants from three different crime families pointed to Asaro’s involvement in the heist, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

But Asaro’s attorney maintained that his client had nothing to do with the heist.

“He got rousted out of bed this morning at 6 o’clock for something he didn’t do,” said attorney Gerald McMahon.

The indictment also charges the four associates with other violent crimes, including murder, arson, and extortion. The associates include Thomas DiFiore; Asaro’s son, Jerome Asaro; Jack Bonventre; and John “Bazoo” Ragano. The associates were also rounded up Thursday morning.

On Dec. 11, 1978, $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels was stolen from the Lufthansa vaults at JFK. The cash and jewelry were never recovered. It was one of the largest cash thefts in American history.

EXTRA: Read The Full Indictment

United States Attorney Loretta Lynch said Asaro “devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades” and helped pull off the Lufthansa robbery.

Authorities said Asaro, along with James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke and other co-conspirators, each expected to walk away with $75,000 in cash and large amounts of jewelry from the 1978 heist.

Burke was a longtime associate of the Lucchese crime family, one of the five La Cosa Nostra families in New York City along with the Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese and Gambino families. He was believed to be the alleged mastermind of the Lufthansa robbery.

Burke also was the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s Jimmy Conway character in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas,” detailing the escapade.

Retired NYPD Detective Joe Coffey worked the Lufthansa case, and spoke to CBS 2’s Lou Young about the arrest Thursday night.

“These people are ruthless, murdering swine,” he said.

Coffey said Burke covered up his Lufthansa tracks the hard way.

“We had the people who were responsible for this robbery back when in 1978, ’79 when it happened,” Coffey said. “We couldn’t prove it, and we couldn’t prove it because Jimmy Burke murdered all the participants in the case.”

Burke died of cancer in a Buffalo hospital in April 1996. He was serving time for an unrelated murder at the time.

Louis Werner, an airport employee and inside informant who had gambling debts, was the only one ever prosecuted in connection with the case.

One of those involved was Henry Hill, a mob member who entered the witness protection program and was portrayed by Ray Liotta as the main character in “Goodfellas.”

“It may be decades later, but the FBI’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos.

Asaro is also accused of killing Paul Katz after he disappeared in December of 1969, authorities said.

He and Burke allegedly strangled Katz with a dog chain because they thought he was cooperating with police and buried him in the basement of a vacant home in Queens, authorities said.

His body stayed there until the mid-1980s when Asaro ordered his son and another person to dig up the body and move it when he found out police were investigating Katz’s murder, authorities said.

It was last June when the FBI excavated the basement of a South Ozone Park home that was still owned by the Burke family and found Katz’s remains. The remains were subsequently identified through DNA.

Asaro was seen driving past the location several times during the excavation.

In addition, both Asaros were charged in a 1984 robbery of $1.25 million worth of gold salts from a Federal Express employee, the indictment said.

The suspects were all to be arraigned in Federal Court in Brooklyn on Thursday.

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