‘Goodfellas’ airport robbery trial gets under way   Leave a comment


An alleged member of a New York crime family has gone on trial over an airport robbery immortalised in the gangster film Goodfellas.

Vincent Asaro, 80, is accused over the theft of $6m in cash and jewels from a cargo hold at JFK airport in 1978.

The robbery was depicted in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfellas.

Mr Asaro is pleading not guilty. His lawyer says the case relies too heavily on witnesses testifying to avoid long jail sentences of their own.

“When necessary, they lie to each other, and they lie to save themselves,” Diane Ferrone told jurors at the start of the trial in New York.

 The prosecution alleges that Mr Asaro worked as part of the Bonnano crime family alongside the late James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, who was played by Robert de Niro in Goodfellas.
Mr Asaro is also accused over the strangling of an alleged informant

“He knew Burke was someone he could make money with,” Assistant US Attorney Lindsay Gerdes said in court. “For him, the Mafia was literally the family business. The defendant is a gangster through and through.”

While Mr Asaro is not accused of directly taking part in the robbery, he is alleged to have delivered gold chains from the heist to a mob leader.

The goods stolen would now be worth close to $20m (£13m).

He is also accused over the murder of a suspected informant who was strangled to death with a dog chain.

The heist was planned by Jimmy Burke, an associate of the Lucchese crime family, and carried out by several associates. The plot began when bookmaker Martin Krugman told Henry Hill (an associate of Jimmy Burke’s) about millions of dollars in untraceable money: American currency flown in once a month from monetary exchanges for military servicemen and tourists in West Germany. The currency would arrive via Lufthansa and was then stored in a vault at Kennedy Airport. The information had come from Louis Werner, a worker at the airport who owed Krugman $20,000 for gambling debts ($78,000 adjusted for inflation) and from his co-worker Peter Gruenwald. Werner and Gruenwald had previously been successful in stealing $22,000 in foreign currency ($91,000 adjusted for inflation) from their employer Lufthansa in 1976.

12 Dec 1978, Queens, New York City, New York State, USA --- Original caption: A Brink's truck is seen parked outside the Lufthansa cargo Terminal, near the pickup and delivery platform, at JFK Airport here, 12/12. On 12/8, a Brink's truck was to have picked up a large sum of cash at the building, but the driver left the money behind when he was informed that a Lufthansa foreman he was supposed to meet was busy, police said. On 12/11, a band of masked raiders stormed into the cargo terminal and bagged a reported $3.5 million. The U.S. currency, all used bills for which authorities have no serial numbers, was being shipped to the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York from Commerz Bank in Frankfurt, West Germany. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Louis Werner helped Krugman throughout the planning, even telling him where the robbers should park. A Ford Econoline 150 van would be used to transport the cash and a “crash car” would accompany the van to run vehicular interference should the plot be interrupted and a police chase ensue. Burke decided on Tommy DeSimone, Joe Civitello Sr., Louis Cafora, Angelo Sepe, Tony Rodriguez, Joseph M. Costa, and Burke’s son Frank James Burke as inside gunmen. Paolo LiCastri, a Sicilian shooter, was later included as a representative of the Gambino crime family, which had been promised a tribute payment to sanction the crime. Parnell “Stacks” Edwards was a black associate of Burke’s gang who served as a “gofer” and chauffeur, and he was also included to dispose of the van used in the heist.

Once everyone was together, Jimmy told Lucchese family underboss Paul Vario, who sent his son Peter to collect his “end” of the loot. Vinne Asaro, the Gambino family’s crew chief at the airport, would also be owed money because Burke, a Lucchese associate, was performing the robbery on territory belonging to the Gambino family.

On December 11, at 3:12 a.m., cargo agent Kerry Whalen returned from making a transfer at American Airlines and spotted a black Ford Econoline van backed into the ramp door. Whalen walked toward the van to investigate, and two men without masks or gloves brutally struck him over the head with pistols. Whalen had his navy hat pulled down to his chin and was thrown into the van, where a third robber was waiting. Another person took his wallet and said that they knew where his family was and they had others ready to visit them. Whalen nodded to indicate that he would cooperate with the robbers.

Senior agent Rolf Rebmann heard a noise by the loading ramp and went to investigate. Six armed, masked robbers forced their way in and handcuffed him. They then used a key provided by Werner and walked through a maze of corridors to round up the two other employees. That accomplished, two gunmen ventured downstairs to look for unexpected visitors. The other robbers marched the employees to a lunch room, where the other employees were on a 3 a.m. break.

The gunmen burst into the lunch room brandishing their firearms. They showed a bloodied Whalen as an indication of their intentions if anyone got out of line. They knew each employee by name and forced them onto the ground. They made John Murray, the terminal’s senior cargo agent, call Rudi Eirich on the intercom. The robbers knew that Eirich was the only guard that night who knew the right combination to open the double-door vault. Murray was made to pretend to Eirich that there was a problem with a load from Frankfurt, and he told Eirich to meet him in the cafeteria. As Eirich approached the cafeteria, he was met by two shotguns and saw the other employees bound and gagged on the cafeteria floor. One gunman kept watch over the ten employees, and the other three took Eirich at gunpoint down two flights of stairs to the double-door vault.

Eirich later reported that the robbers were informed and knew all about the safety systems in the vault, including the double-door system, whereby one door must be shut in order for the other one to be opened without activating the alarm. The robbers ordered Eirich to open up the first door to a 10-by-20-foot room. They knew that, if he opened the second door, he would activate an alarm to the Port Authority Police unit at the airport. Once inside, they ordered Eirich to lie on the ground and began sifting through invoices and freight manifests to determine which parcels they wanted from among the many similarly wrapped ones.

Finally, they began hurling parcels of cash through the door. Around 40 parcels were removed. Eirich was then made to lock the inner door before unlocking the outer door. Two of the gunmen were assigned to load the parcels into the van while the others tied up Eirich. The employees were told not to call the Port Authority until 4:30 a.m. When the robbers left, it was 4:16 a.m. According to the cafeteria clock, no calls were made until 4:30, when a report of the theft was made. This 15-minute buffer was crucial because Werner’s inside information made the robbers aware that the Port Authority Police could seal off the entire airport within 90 seconds.

At 4:21 a.m., the van containing the robbers and the stolen cash pulled out of the cargo terminal and left JFK, followed by the crash car. The robbery took only 64 minutes and was the largest money heist ever committed on American soil at the time.


From left to right: Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito based on real life heist participant Tommy DeSimone, Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Robert De Niro as James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway.


The robbers drove to a garage in Canarsie, Brooklyn, where Jimmy Burke was waiting. There, the money was switched to a third vehicle that was driven away by Jimmy Burke and his son Frank. The rest of the robbers left and drove home, except Paolo LiCastri, who insisted on taking the subway home. Parnell “Stacks” Edwards put stolen license plates on the van and was supposed to drive it to an auto junk yard in New Jersey, where it would be compacted to scrap metal.

Burke and his son Frank drove the third car with all the stolen money to a safehouse to be counted. This is when Burke realized the true scope of the robbery: he expected to bring in no more than $2 million and was shocked by the $6 million haul.

Jimmy Burke realized that the robbery had netted $6 million, three times the amount that he expected, and he knew that a robbery of this magnitude would attract the intense attention of the police at every level (local, state, and federal), causing a lot of problems for everyone involved, as well as for organized crime in New York in general. Burke became increasingly concerned that there were too many witnesses who knew of his involvement, and too many who became greedy once learning the true amount of money stolen in the heist.

Jimmy Burke realized that Edwards’ failure to properly dispose of the van had allowed the police to catch on to his crew, and he resolved to kill anyone who could implicate him in the heist. The first to be murdered, just 7 days after the heist, was Edwards – shot and killed in his apartment on December 18, 1978, by Tommy DeSimone and Angelo Sepe. This was the first in a series of criminals and their acquaintances who were murdered after the heist at Burke’s orders.

Tommy DeSimone was involved in the similar Air France Robbery of 1967 with Jimmy Burke associate Henry Hill. A particularly close, loyal, and trustworthy friend of Burke, not involved in the Lufthansa heist until Edwards’ murder. Was murdered after the execution of Edwards and no later than January 14, 1979 for having carried out the unrelated murders of two made Gambino crime family members and Gotti associates: William ‘Billy Batts’ DeVino and Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe.

Tommy beats the crap out of ‘Billy Batts’ DeVino.

Posted October 19, 2015 by markosun in Uncategorized

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