The Lufthansa Robbery-Mafia Stories

Another true crime story that caught my attention while I was traveling……

Welcome back. This week while I was in New York to promote my new book Footprints in the Dew I had the opportunity to catch a little information about a story that first broke in 1978 when one of the biggest cash robberies in American history took place at Kennedy International Airport. It was called the Lufthansa heist and if you don’t remember it or weren’t even born at the time, this is the story.

According to the New York Times, government prosecutors claimed that it was Vincent Asaro who pulled off the 6 million dollar heist. In court statements a string of Mafia informants testified that Asaro, who was a captain in the Bonanno crime family did the job and stashed millions of dollars in cash along with gold, emeralds and diamonds in burlap sacks and hid them in the basement of his cousin’s Brooklyn home. That cousin, Gaspare Valenti, was also a Bonanno soldier who turned informant. Valenti testified that he and Asaro had also hijacked truckloads of clothing and committed many other crimes including murder, all on orders of James Burke. Burke was a high ranking member of the Luchese crime family who was portrayed by actor Robert DeNiro in the hit movie Goodfellas.

The Bonanno family originated in Sicily and became one of the five organized crime families in New York City under the leadership of Joseph Bonanno. For thirty years his family was one of the most powerful criminal groups in the country.

During the trial Valenti explained that he and Asaro got the jump on Lufthansa security guard Rolf Rebmann, took his keys and got into the airline cargo shipment. He said it was an inside job, all arranged by Burke and Asaro. Several other Mafia associates who were involved were either killed shortly after the heist or vanished. Valenti’s cut was $750,000 in cash. The jewels were distributed to the four other crime families in New York to keep the peace.

Another former Bonanno underboss, Salvatore Vitale along with Anthony Ruggiano from the Gambino crime family also testified against Asaro.

When asked about the Mafia code of behavior Valenti stated bluntly:

“It was simple. You don’t cooperate with the law, sleep with another man’s wife or daughter and you can sell marijuana but no other drugs. But the rules are always broken.”

The trial started in October 2014 when FBI agents arrested Asaro, his son and four others after years of secretly following and taping recording them. Following the arrests everyone except  Asaro took plea deals. At 80 years old he stuck to the Mafia code. On November 13th while all of New York City and myself watched, despite years of work by the FBI and dozens of witnesses for the prosecution, Vincent Asaro was acquitted of all charges.

As he left the courthouse a free man, Asaro addressed a waiting crowd saying that not even mob boss John Gotti had received as much attention. Then he laughingly added “Don’t let them (the FBI) see the body in the trunk.”

Next week more from New York City. Till then I’ll see ya down the road…..