NEW YORK (AP) — The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in a decades-old airport heist immortalized in the hit gangster movie "Goodfellas," a defense attorney said in closing arguments on Monday at Asaro's racketeering trial.
Lawyer Elizabeth Macedonio called the cooperating witnesses "despicable people" and "accomplished liars" who would say anything to save themselves. She singled out Asaro's mob associate cousin, who came forward in the late 2000s and agreed to wear a wire to record their conversations and try to implicate her client.
The cousin, Gaspare Valenti, "is a person who is able to lie to everyone around him — even his own family," she told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn.
The jury got the case late Monday and deliberated for about a half-hour before breaking for day. It was to resume on Tuesday.
The government alleges that the 80-year-old Asaro, in his heyday, helped plan the $6 million armed holdup at a Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It also has accused the Bonanno organized crime family member of continuing his life of crime into his later year before his arrest last year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley, in her closing argument on Friday, told the jury that Asaro, whose grandfather and father were members of the secretive Bonanno family, "was born into that life and he fully embraced it."
She said 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 1978 Lufthansa heist and inspired the mob character played by Robert De Niro in the film. She cited testimony by Valenti about how Asaro teamed with Burke to assemble the holdup crew and, in a separate scheme, kill a suspected informant with a dog chain.
Jurors have heard recordings made by Valenti on which Asaro complained in a profanity-laced rant, "We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get. ... Jimmy kept everything."
Asaro's attorney argued that the recordings only exposed the bluster of a broken-down old man with a gambling problem.
"Hardly the powerful organized crime figure the government alleges him to be," Macedonio said. "Rather, Mr. Asaro rode around all day with Gaspare Valenti fantasizing. Fantasizing about a way to make money."
Valenti, 68, testified he signed up to become a paid government informant because a gambling problem had left him destitute and he was fed up with the Mafia.
Asaro, if convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other charges, would face life in prison.
"Goodfellas," released in 1990, also featured Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Joe Pesci, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. It was directed by Martin Scorsese.