A Mastermind of the Legendary Goodfellas Heist to Stand Trial After 36 Years

He made off scot free with $5 million in cash and jewels — until now.

Eighty-year-old Vincent Asaro might look like an infirm bag of wrinkles, but in his youth he was a no-nonsense mobster with long term ties to the Bonanno crime family, one of New York City’s most notorious organized crime outfits. And on Monday, Asaro’s life of crime was laid out in front of a jury in Brooklyn as he faced charges for racketeering, murder and a slew of other crimes, the New York Timesreports.

Most notably, Asaro is tied to the 1978 Lufthansa heist that saw $5 million in cash and jewels lifted from the a cargo building at Kennedy International Airport in Queens. You may remember it from this legendary scene from Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mobster classic.


Asaro was arrested last year after the FBI managed to convince four witnesses to rat on him, including his cousin Sal Vitale, himself a former member of the Bonanno crime family. According to a prosecutor who spoke to the New York Times, Asaro planned the heist with James Burke, the mobster portrayed by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. Asaro allegedly hired the crew to carry out the heist but didn’t do any of the dirty work himself.

Vitale described the heist on the stand: “There were burlap sacks of gold chains, crates of watches, a three-by-three box with metal drawers and each draw had diamonds, emeralds, all different stones,” he said. “We made a chain and loaded everything in the van.” Here are more details, per the Times:

On Dec. 11, the crew they had assembled headed to the terminal in a stolen van, while Mr. Burke and Mr. Asaro waited in a car nearby, acting as potential decoys in case the police discovered their plan.

The group in the van cut the chain-link fence around the cargo area, held employees at gunpoint and went to a vault containing boxes of cash and jewelry. Later, at Mr. Asaro’s cousin’s house, they reassembled, unloaded the stolen goods and began spreading the spoils among the crew, Ms. Gerdes said.

If all this sounds sexy and glamorous and not like the kind of thing worth locking up an old man for, consider the other awful acts of which Asaro is accused, like the 1969 murder of a warehouse owner who Asaro believed ratted him out. The warehouse owner, according to prosecutors, was strangled with a dog chain.

As Vitale testified on Monday, Asaro was a animal lover. People, not so much. 

Photos by Brendan McDermid / Reuters / Landov