After 27 years, an alleged mobster has finally been put on trial accused of the spectacular 1978 airport heist made forever famous by Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas.
In the 1990 Oscar-winning gangster movie, based on real-life events, former mafia associate turned police informant Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) delivers testimony against his former gang mates.
In the real world, that account of Hill’s involvement in organised crime resulted in 50 convictions of high-level gangsters, including James ‘Jimmy the Gent’ Burke (played by Robert de Niro in the film). However, nobody has ever been brought to justice for the original airport heist which is one of the most iconic parts of the movie, until now.
80-year-old Vincent Asaro, thought to be a member of the notorious Bonanno crime family, is accused of murder, violence and extortion which allegedly spanned 45 years from the late 1960s to 2013. He pleads not guilty.
The raid on a Lufthansa Airlines vault at JFK airport in New York in 1978 was the biggest heist ever seen on U.S. soil, as the armed mobsters made away with $5 million (£3.2m) in stolen cash and nearly $1m in jewels. The value of the loot has since risen to an estimated $20m.
Asaro, who was not portrayed in Scorcese’s movie, is thought to have taken a direct cut from the haul. He is also accused of strangling Paul Katz, a presumed informant, to death with a dog chain in 1969 and burying his body at Burke’s old house in Queens.
According to reports in The Guardian and VICE, Asaro’s defence lawyers claim there is a lack of evidence against their client, while the prosecution claims he blew his cut on a growing gambling addiction.
Sal Vitale, a former underboss/right hand man in the mafia, testified against Asaro and implicated him in the heist, claiming he was in a car with mobster Joseph Massino when Asaro handed them a briefcase full of diamonds and gold from the airport vaults.
The trial continues, as does the mafia itself by the sounds of it. Those testifying at the trial have spoken of the mob in the present tense, so it looks like those Goodfellas and Godfather style money making schemes are not a thing of the past, by any means!