They were “wiseguys” or “goodfellas,” the federal government said Thursday of five reputed mobsters indicted in connection with a string of unsolved crimes, including the fabled 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK International Airport.
In an indictment that reads like the script of “Goodfellas,” alleged mob captain Vincent Asaro, 78, and other alleged members of the Bonanno organized crime family are accused of murder, racketeering, armed robbery, arson and extortion.
In the infamous Lufthansa robbery, a band of robbers stole about $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewels from an airline cargo building in the largest cash robbery in the nation’s history at the time.
The robbery was part of the story in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 “Goodfellas” film about organized crime in New York. And Thursday’s indictment opened with a primer on the hierarchical structure of the mob or “La Cosa Nostra” and one of its most notorious families, the Bonnanos, with explanations of the roles of its boss, “consigliere” or underboss, administrations, crews, captains, soldiers, associates and “goodfellas.”
“As alleged, Vincent Asaro devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades,” Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Far from a code of honor, theirs was a code of violence and brute force. Those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement paid with their lives.”
She added, “Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro’s ruthless ways, as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months.”
Also charged in the indictment were fellow Bonanno family members or associates: Asaro’s son, Jerome, Jack Bonventre, Thomas “Tommy D” Di Fiore and John “Bazoo” Ragano.
Four of the five defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Marilyn Go, who said that no bail would be set now because of the violent nature of the charges.
Bonventre, who was not arraigned Thursday because his lawyer was unavailable, will be arraigned Friday. The defendant did not appear in court.
Vincent Asaro’s lawyer, Gerald McMahon, arrived in the crowded courtroom with a large plastic bag filled with prescription drugs for his client, who, he said, had triple bypass surgery in March. The courtroom was filled with Asaro family members and federal agents.
“Vincent Asaro said that we are going to trial on this case — there will be no plea,” said McMahon, who joked that the indictment was giving Scorsese the basis for a sequel to “Goodfellas.” “Short of a dismissal, there will be a trial.
McMahon said his client has high blood pressure in addition to the recent triple bypass.
“We’re gonna try to put together a sufficient bail package so he can get bail,” he said. “But he’s not a very wealthy man, unfortunately … My client isn’t in the position to put $10 million on the government’s table, either for bail or for some sort of a special deal.”
Of his client’s alleged involvement in the fabled heist, McMahon said: “Innocence. Pure, actual innocence. He didn’t do it, had nothing to do with it. Pretty much all the people that did it got murdered … So, the fact that my client didn’t get murdered would suggest that he didn’t have anything to do with it, so I’ll start right there.”
Vincent Asaro is the first accused mobster to face charges in the Lufthansa heist.
Ed McDonald, a former federal prosecutor who investigated the Lufthansa heist, told CNN that authorities were able to confirm at least eight killings reportedly connected to the robbery.
“You know at the time it was an extraordinarily big deal,” said McDonald, who played himself in the film. “It was the largest robbery in the history of the United states. For whatever reason, the tabloids in New York took a fancy to this case. They were fascinated by it, and what was happening was that a lot of the people who were allegedly involved in the robbery in some form … were turning up dead.”
The only person convicted in connection with the JFK heist was Louis Werner, a Lufthansa cargo agent, McDonald said. Werner, who was arrested a few months after the robbery, was convicted of being the “inside man” who provided information that helped the robbers carry out the heist, McDonald said.
Other crimes described in the indictment also sound similar to events portrayed in the film — a 1969 murder, burning a New York building and a racketeering operation that used threats of violence to extort money from victims.
“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted,” George Venizelos, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York office. “However, today’s arrests of the five members of the Bonanno crime family brings an end to their violent and ruthless ways.”