NEW YORK (AP) — An aging mobster who stayed in shadows for decades by adhering to the Mafia's strict code of silence should finally be held accountable for his crimes including the 1978 airport heist that was retold in "Goodfellas," a prosecutor told jurors on Friday.
Vincent Asaro, whose grandfather and father were members of the secretive 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 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 the jury 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 more 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 in a daylong closing argument.
The defense was to give its summation on Monday.
Asaro, 80, has pleaded not guilty to murder, extortion and other charges.
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, agreed to became a cooperator and wear a wire to try to implicate Asaro 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.
Cooley's summation on Friday stretched nearly six hours as she methodically detailed what she called "45 crime-filled years" of Asaro's life, including several less-compelling allegations of loansharking that prosecutors say he resorted to when his $750,000 cut of the Lufthansa heist ran out.
The defendant looked alert and engaged throughout, muttering and passing notes to his lawyers. He even smiled and waved to supporters only moments after hearing the prosecutor's coda.
"Even though it's been delayed for too long," Cooley said, "justice is still within reach."