Vincent Asaro, mobster acquitted of Lufthansa robbery, dies at 86 | ET REALITY


Vincent Asaro, a career mobster who was found not guilty of murder and helping to organize the astonishing $6 million Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy Airport (one of the largest cash heists in the history of United States), only to be sentenced to prison when he was 82 for road rage revenge, died on October 22 in Queens. He was 86 years old.

His death was confirmed by Gerald McMahon, a lawyer who successfully represented him in the Lufthansa case. No cause was given.

The brazen 1978 theft of $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry from a vault in a Lufthansa hangar at Kennedy Airport featured prominently in Nick Pileggi’s 1985 book “Wiseguy” and the Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas” (1990). .

Authorities suspected mob involvement, but the case remained unsolved and the investigation was closed until Asaro was arrested in 2014, linking him and the Bonanno crime family to the robbery.

He was also accused of using a dog chain in 1969 to strangle Paul Katz, the owner of a warehouse where Mr. Asaro and James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, who was suspected of planning the Lufthansa robbery (and who was played by Robert DeNiro). in “Goodfellas”), they stored their stolen loot. Asaro and Burke had believed Katz was an informant after police raided the warehouse.

The indictment implicated Mr. Asaro in a broad conspiracy in which he was also accused of stealing from FedEx (then Federal Express) $1.25 million in gold salts, which can be used in medicinal treatments; bullying her way into the porn business; and seeking (unsuccessfully) to liquidate a cousin who had testified about an insurance scam.

Mr. Asaro’s trial in 2015 was a sensation.

Although the robbery had taken place more than three decades earlier, it had been immortalized in the book and film, and even to younger New Yorkers, it seemed like a coda to the “Godfather” era.

Furthermore, the key witness against Mr. Asaro was another cousin, Gaspare Valenti, who had been a government informant since 2008 and had secretly recorded Mr. Asaro from 2010 to 2013.

Valenti’s testimony on the stand was a stunning violation of the mob’s code of silence.

It also revealed the almost pathetic devolution of power by a ruthless mobster who in his day job could suggest to customers which fences to buy at his store in Ozone Park, Queens, while in his other life he could impatiently advise a younger associate at the mafia asking him what was the best way to do it. to collect a debt: “Stab him today.”

Asaro’s acquittal in 2015 was so surprising, not only to the prosecution, but to Asaro himself, that when he left the courtroom and got into a car, he giddily joked: “Don’t let them see the body in the trunk.”

Ironically, the car reference came back to haunt him two years later. He was accused of recruiting a mob associate, who in turn recruited John J. Gotti, grandson of the former Gambino family boss, to set fire to the car of a motorist who cut Mr. Asaro off in a traffic light.

The driver was pursued at high speed by Mr. Asaro without success. The associate used law enforcement sources to track the license plate, after which Mr. Gotti and two other men located the car in Broad Channel, Queens; he doused him with gasoline; and set it on fire. An off-duty police officer parked nearby witnessed the auto-da-fe and chased the arsonists, but they sped away in a Jaguar.

Surprisingly, after a lifetime of denying guilt for the crime, Asaro not only pleaded guilty but also apologized for what he acknowledged was “a stupid thing I did.”

He could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. The prosecution asked for 15 years, noting that although Mr. Asaro had “engaged in extortion, murder, robbery, extortion, loan sharking, gambling and other illegal conduct, he has served less than eight years in prison.”

In December 2017, U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross ordered him to serve eight years in prison (which, at age 80, Asaro described as “a death sentence”) and pay $21,276 in restitution to the car’s owner.

“If he had not left a life of crime at the age of 77,” Judge Ross said, referring to her age during the initial phases of the Lufthansa trial, which she presided over, “I have little hope that he would.” so.”

Vincent A. Asaro was born on July 10, 1937, in Queens, the son of Joseph and Victoria Asaro, who separated when he was a teenager. His uncle, Michael Zaffarano, owned buildings that housed adult movie theaters, distributed pornography and was a bodyguard for Joseph Bonanno, who ran his eponymous crime family for nearly four decades.

In 1957, Mr. Asaro married Theresa Myler; They divorced in 2005.

Among Mr. Asaro’s survivors is his son, Jerome. He was arrested along with his father in 2014, pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Mr. Asaro accumulated numerous charges and convictions throughout his life. Among them, he was convicted in federal court in 1970 and 1972 of interstate shipment theft and post office robbery. In 1998 he was sentenced in New York state court to four to 12 years in prison for corporate corruption and criminal possession of stolen property.

Three decades after the notorious Lufthansa heist, the beggar but still angry gangster, according to prosecutors, squandered his $500,000 share of the loot on gambling and used up everything he had raised thanks to his relentless pursuit of borrowers. defaulters He had pawned her jewelry and was seen buying orzo and lentils at a Waldbaum supermarket.

According to a conversation recorded by Valenti and played in court in 2015, he was even not welcome at the local social club where he had celebrated the robbery.

“People hate me there,” Asaro said. “I don’t pay my dues.”

Even his estranged son, whom he had initiated into the mafia and who by then outranked him, rejected him when he desperately sought to borrow money, according to another recording.

Mr. Asaro suffered a stroke during his imprisonment for ordering the fire, which left him partially paralyzed. In 2020, the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, granted him compassionate release due to his age and vulnerability to Covid-19.

“He obviously had nine lives,” McMahon said after Asaro’s death. “But this must have been the tenth.”

joseph goldstein contributed with reports.

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