N.Y. jurors urged to convict accused mobster for 'Goodfellas' heist

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2015 12:32 PM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors urged a New York jury on Friday to convict an octogenarian mobster for his role in an infamous 1978 airport heist that helped inspire the movie "Goodfellas."

Vincent Asaro, 80, is a third-generation mobster who spent his entire adult life immersed in organized crime as a member of the Bonanno crime family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley told jurors in Brooklyn federal court at the end of a three-week trial.

"He lived by and personally enforced the Mafia's code: 'Death before dishonor,'" she said, noting that Asaro has that phrase tattooed on his arm.

Asaro's defense lawyers are expected to give their closing argument later on Friday.

Asaro was one of several armed men who stole $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in December 1978, according to prosecutors.

The heist, which remained one of the country's most notorious unsolved crimes until Asaro's arrest in January 2014, provided a key plot point for "Goodfellas," Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning 1990 film.

Asaro was closely associated with Jimmy Burke, long thought to be the mastermind of the Lufthansa heist and the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s character in the classic mob movie.

Asaro is accused of a laundry list of mob-related crimes, including murder, racketeering and extortion. In 1969, prosecutors say, he and Burke strangled a suspected informant to death with a dog chain before burying the body underneath a house in Queens.

That murder, Cooley said, came at a time when Asaro was "desperate" to prove himself as an up-and-coming mobster.

The three-week trial saw a parade of former Mafia members who agreed to cooperate with the government testify about murders, retribution and thefts, giving jurors a rare inside look at life in the mob.

The key witness, Asaro's cousin Gaspare Valenti, secretly recorded the defendant for years, including conversations in which Asaro complained he did not get his share of the Lufthansa heist.

The defense has sought to undermine the credibility of the witnesses, arguing they are liars seeking to avoid prison.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Lambert)