(NEW YORK) -- Federal agents on Thursday are doing something they couldn’t do for more than three decades: they’re charging a reputed mobster in connection with the infamous “Lufthansa Heist” at Kennedy International Airport in 1978, ABC News has learned.
As part of a series of predawn raids around the New York metro area, FBI agents are apprehending 78-year-old Vincent Asaro of Howard Beach, N.Y., according to sources. Said to be a ranking member of the Bonanno organized crime family, Asaro is to be arraigned in federal court later Thursday on a series of racketeering charges to include the JFK robbery caper made famous in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas.
FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser told ABC News: “An FBI operation is ongoing. We will release further details later this morning.”
With the unsealing of an indictment, Asaro is to become the first accused mobster to face charges in the Lufthansa Heist. Before Thursday, the only other person who ever had to answer for a role in the notorious robbery was Louis Werner, an airport worker who provided critical inside information to the robbers.
The crime, perpetrated in the middle of the night on Dec. 11, 1978, netted more than $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels -- the equivalent of more than $20 million today. At the time, it was the single-biggest heist ever pulled off on U.S soil. And it led to a massive, years-long investigative effort that ultimately proved fruitless as wiseguys and their associates believed involved in the robbery disappeared or died at the hands of nervous crime bosses.
The feds plan to say precisely what they believe Asaro’s role was in the Lufthansa job. At the time, he was reputed to be a key Mafia overseer responsible for illicit activities at JFK -- long a target favored by the New York crime families because of the huge amount of cargo that moves through New York’s biggest airport. Asaro is now said to be an “administrator” of the Bonanno clan.
Also being hauled in Thursday morning are four other alleged mobsters, including underboss Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore of Commack, N.Y., the highest-ranking Bonanno family member currently living outside of prison, officials said. DiFiore, facing conspiracy charges, was elevated to help rebuild a Bonanno family devastated by recent prosecutions and the stunning decision 10 years ago by family boss Joseph Massino to turn state’s evidence and testify against other wiseguys.
Thursday morning’s roundup had been quietly in the works for months. It stems from the FBI’s surprise decision last June to search for evidence at the home of the late Mafia associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke in Queens, N.Y. Acting on new information from a source, agents found human remains after digging in and around the home still owned by Burke’s daughter, agents said.
DNA tests matched the remains to Paul Katz, who disappeared in 1969 after Burke and his henchmen found reason to believe Katz was working with law enforcement. Investigators believe that Katz was strangled with a chain and then buried at a vacant home elsewhere in Queens, sources told ABC News. Katz’s remains were allegedly moved to Burke’s basement after the mobsters got spooked by a separate probe.
Burke, the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s “Jimmy Conway” character in Goodfellas, died in 1996 while serving time for a different killing. The feds believe that Burke was the mastermind of the Lufthansa Heist and was responsible for killing off almost anyone who could directly connect him to the notorious caper.
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