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Prosecutor: ‘Goodfellas’ heist defendant embraced mob life

November 6, 2015 Associated Press
In this courtroom sketch, Vincent Asaro, 80, third from left, sits flanked by his defense attorneys during opening arguments on Oct. 15 at federal court in Brooklyn, in his federal racketeering conspiracy trial for his role in the $6 million, 1978 Lufthansa cargo heist at John F. Kennedy airport. The dramatic robbery was immortalized in the film “Goodfellas.” Elizabeth Williams via AP
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An aging mobster lived a long life of crime highlighted by the $6 million heist in 1978 that was retold in the classic Mafia movie “Goodfellas,” a prosecutor said Friday in closing arguments at a federal racketeering trial.

Vincent Asaro, whose grandfather and father were members of the Bonanno organized crime family, “was born into that life and he fully embraced it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley told a jury in Brooklyn. “The defendant was a rare breed in the Mafia — a third-generation wiseguy.”

The 80-year-old defendant’s devotion to the crime family “was as permanent as the ‘death before dishonor’ tattoo on his arm,” Cooley added at a trial that’s given jurors a lesson in the lifestyle of gangsters from a bygone era.

The prosecutor described how Asaro rose through the ranks and developed an “unbreakable bond” with the notorious James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, the late Lucchese crime family associate who orchestrated the armed robbery of a Lufthansa cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport. According to trial testimony, Burke — played by Robert de Niro in the film — and Asaro also teamed up to kill a suspected informant with a dog chain.

Asaro showed that “when necessary, he’d kill to enforce La Cosa Nostra’s code of silence,” Cooley said.

Asaro has pleaded not guilty to murder, extortion and other charges. His lawyer was to give her closing later Friday.

Until his arrest in 2014, Asaro was an obscure mobster who had only been convicted of lesser crimes. He survived a bloodbath portrayed in “Goodfellas,” with De Niro’s character going ballistic over fellow mobsters’ purchases of flashy cars and furs and, fearing they would attract law enforcement attention, having them whacked.

But that changed in 2008, when Asaro’s cousin, mob associate Gaspare Valenti, became a cooperator and implicated him in the holdup and other old crimes. Taking the witness stand last month, Valenti testified that Asaro ordered him to join the robbery crew, telling him, “Jimmy Burke has a big score at the airport coming up, and you’re invited to go.”

Asaro was “very happy, really euphoric” when he learned about the mountain of $100 bills and jewels scored in the heist, Valenti testified.

“We thought there was going to be $2 million in cash and there was $6 million,” the witness said.

Prosecutors say Asaro ended up with a $750,000 cut that he gambled away at the racetrack.

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