Onetime defendant in legendary Lufthansa heist is rearrested

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 22, 2017 5:56 PM
Onetime defendant in legendary Lufthansa heist is rearrested

NEW YORK (AP) — An aging mobster who beat a charge that he took part in a legendary heist retold in the hit film "Goodfellas" was accused Wednesday in a less noteworthy crime — getting a group of gangsters, including John "Dapper Don" Gotti's namesake grandson, to torch a car that cut him off in traffic.

Vincent Asaro, an 82-year-old third-generation member of the secretive Bonanno crime family, was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to the 2012 arson in federal court in Brooklyn.

Also pleading not guilty to the same arson and an unrelated bank robbery was John J. Gotti, the 23-year-old grandson of the late Gambino crime family boss John Gotti.

The defendants "are charged with committing an assortment of violent crimes — arson to exact punishment for a perceived slight and robberies to unjustly enrich themselves," acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement announcing the arrests.

Outside court, Asaro's lawyer questioned the timing and the point of the government's decision to again go after her client, who was leading a quiet life until FBI agents came to his door Wednesday.

"I think he's frustrated," said the attorney, Elizabeth Macedonio.

The new case was a harsh reversal of fortunes for Asaro, who was last seen at the same courthouse raising his arms and shouting "Free!" after a jury found him not guilty of charges he orchestrated the Lufthansa robbery with James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, the late Lucchese crime family associate who inspired Robert De Niro's role in the film.

At the time, the heist was called one of the largest cash thefts in American history, with gunmen looting about $5 million in untraceable U.S. currency that was being returned to the United States from Germany, along with about $1 million in jewelry, from the airline's cargo terminal.

Asaro later 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. Prosecutors — relying on the testimony of turncoat mobsters that the defense labeled as opportunistic liars — claimed Asaro collected at least $500,000 from the score but had a gambling problem and squandered it away at the racetrack.

Prosecutors now say that three years before his arrest in the Lufthansa case, Asaro ordered the arson to avenge getting cut off by another motorist in the Howard Beach section of Queens. He provided the home address of the driver to a Bonanno associate, who recruited Gotti and another man to douse the motorist's car with gasoline and torch it, court papers said.

The arsonists fled in a Jaguar sedan driven by Gotti that briefly led a police car on a high-speed chase before officers "terminated the pursuit for safety reasons due to Gotti's reckless driving," prosecutors said.

Earlier this month, Gotti was sentenced to eight years in state prison after pleading guilty to selling oxycodone pills. His grandfather died in prison in 2002.

If convicted on the federal charges, Asaro and Gotti face terms of up to 20 years.