The great JFK moneybag heist: Echoes of ‘Goodfellas’ as trial begins in Brooklyn

September 13, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
The Federal Court Building in Brooklyn, where Staten Island NYPD Officer Christopher Terranova was charged with Child Exploitation and Coercion of Minors.Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle
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A cinematic heist, reminiscent of scenes from the iconic film “Goodfellas,” unfolded on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2019. Nearly two years later, the trial commences at Brooklyn Federal Court this week.

Quincy Thorpe, then a Delta baggage handler, and his associate, Emmanuel Okon, stand accused of a brazen theft: a bag filled with a whopping $258,205, destined for Miami but mysteriously missing upon arrival.

According to court filings, on Sept. 24, 2019, eight bags brimming with U.S. and foreign currency were securely transported by a renowned security company, Loomis. The baggage, under the watchful eye of security, was handed to Thorpe and his Delta Air Lines Ground Services team at Gate C-70 for loading onto Delta Flight 1225. However, when the aircraft touched down in Miami, one bag was conspicuously absent.

Key evidence hinges on multiple surveillance videos capturing the movements of Thorpe and Okon throughout the day of the theft. These videos reportedly show Thorpe diverging from standard procedure, scanning some bags but placing the stolen bag into a separate vehicle.

Moments later, both the Delta Airlines van and the vehicle with the missing moneybag traveled to an obscure airport area, returning shortly after with the trailer conspicuously empty.

As the plot thickened, the Delta van was spotted in an unsecured parking area behind Building 21. A blue Nissan Sentra, driven by a man closely resembling Okon, pulled up shortly thereafter. Minutes later, both vehicles departed simultaneously.

When the Delta van reentered the secure area of Terminal 2, Thorpe was no longer inside. Nevertheless, surveillance shows him reentering Terminal 2 using his security credentials shortly after.

This audacious act mirrors a chapter from New York’s notorious criminal past. On Dec. 11, 1978, JFK Airport was the site of the U.S.’s most substantial cash heist at the time. Masked gunmen made off with $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry. That heist, tied to the Lucchese crime family, became legendary, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Vagelatos and Dylan Stern will spearhead the prosecution, with Vagelatos delivering the opening statement. On the defense side, Thorpe will be represented by Lonnie Hart, while Okon has secured the services of Douglas Rankin.

This recent JFK theft, although the amount of money taken was dwarfed by the 1978 loot, has caught the public’s imagination, partly because of the alleged culprits’ audacity and the intriguing mix of surveillance technology and old-fashioned detective work.

Though Delta stated its disappointment with the alleged conduct of their former employee, emphasizing that it doesn’t represent the company’s values, many eyes will be on the courtroom on Wednesday, seeking answers to the mystery. Most importantly — where is the missing $258,205? The tale continues to unravel.

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