Are you ready for Goodfellas: The Sequel? You better be, cause the story has arrived. Yesterday, FBI agents arrested five wiseguys of the Bonanno crime family and hit them with various counts of racketeering. One Bonanno mobster is charged with participation in the 1978 Lufthansa heist immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s movie Goodfellas, adding a new twist to this infamous robbery.
The five Bonanno mobsters all have their own unique story. The biggest catch is Thomas Di Fiore, who currently holds the title of acting boss within the crime family. Vincent and Jerome Asaro, father and son, are both longtime Bonanno captains. Jack Bonventre and John Ragano finish off the list and are both listed as soldiers. Each man faces various racketeering charges, but Vincent Asaro is looking at the mother-load as he is charged with participating in a 1969 murder and the Lufthansa heist in 1978.
The heist at the Lufthansa Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport totaled more than $5 million U.S. dollars and approximately $1 million in jewelry. At that time it was the biggest cash robbery ever committed on American soil. It was a major event and the media were all over it.
For the robbers the heist was a once-in-a-lifetime jackpot of a moneymaker. Under the leadership of mastermind and Lucchese crime family associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke (right), Lucchese mobsters had pulled off the robbery like clockwork. Using inside man Louis Werner, a Lufthansa cargo agent, the group had easy access and were in and out as if they were getting some groceries.
Proceeds from the robbery were divided between members of the Lucchese and Bonanno families. As Lucchese wiseguy-turned-informant Henry Hill describes in his book Wiseguy: “By early December everything was ready and we were just waiting for the word from Werner that the money had arrived. […] Jimmy [Burke] also had to give up a share to Vinnie Asaro, who was then the Bonanno family's crew chief out at the airport. The Bonannos ran half the airport in those days, and Jimmy had to show respect to them to maintain the peace.”
Each person involved in the robbery was supposed to receive approximately $750,000 dollars, but in the end most of the money ended up in the hands of one Irish hoodlum, the one who had planned the whole operation: James Burke. Not giving any money of the loot was actually a sign of Jimmy being a ‘gent’ as many of the participants in the Lufthansa robbery ended up dead. (Watch the Goodfellas scene dealing with these murders here.)
GO HOME AND GET YOUR SHINE BOX
Bonanno mobster Vincent Asaro escaped Burke’s brutal way of delivering a paycheck. Perhaps because of his position in the mob, or maybe because of his close criminal relationship with the Irish wiseguy and his crew. Because the Lufthansa Heist wasn’t the only real life scene from Goodfellas that Asaro starred in. It was Asaro’s bar where they whacked Marty Krugman, who you’ll remember as the Jewish wig guy from Goodfellas.
Asaro was also in the room when Tommy DeSimone, played by Joe Pesci in the movie, shot Spider in the foot. “One night Tommy shot a kid named Spider in the foot just because the kid didn't want to dance. It looked accidental, and Vinnie Asaro, who's with the Bonanno crew, took Spider to a neighborhood doctor to get the kid fixed up. We let Spider sleep in Robert's Lounge for a couple of weeks. He was walking around with his leg in bandages. But crazy Tommy kept making the kid dance. Tommy said he was using the kid for target practice,” Hill wrote in his autobiography.
A kind gesture by Asaro. Perhaps Burke interpreted it as a sign of weakness since despite what Henry Hill might’ve thought, Asaro did not receive his end of the heist. At least, that is what he told his cousin, “We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get, we got fucked all around. Got fucked all around, that fucking Jimmy [Burke] kept everything,” Asaro lamented.
You win some, you lose some. Vincent Asaro kept on trucking and in the 1990s, under the leadership of Joseph Massino, became a captain in the Bonanno Family. Around that same time, in 1996, Jimmy Burke passed away in prison while serving a life sentence for murder. He had never been charged with the Lufthansa Heist. Neither would Asaro. Despite Henry Hill’s testimony, the only person that was doing time for that robbery was inside man Louis Werner.
BADA BING BADA BOOP
As the Mafia’s influence and power dwindled. Individual mobsters saw their own activities go from grand to run-of-the-mill. Where he once controlled a piece of JFK airport for the Bonanno mob, by the 2000s Asaro was involved in gambling, loansharking, extortion, and violence that was more slapstick than Scorsese.
Like the time in 2005 when Asaro started beefing with a group of teenagers and young men who were hanging out near a bodega across the street from a social club in Ozone Park, New York, that Asaro and other Bonanno family members and associates frequented. The young men apparently had thrown a bottle in the direction of the club one day when Asaro came out of the club and started arguing with the youngsters, saying that he was going to “bust their hole.”
When they responded that they would not fight an old man, Asaro ripped off his shirt, took off his glasses, put up his hands and stated, “Let’s go.” The youngsters managed to stall the fight as additional young men arrived in the vicinity. No doubt re-thinking his odds in this scenario, Asaro summoned other Bonanno family wiseguys to come and join the fight. After he pointed out the young rascals to his associates, they began punching and chasing a few of them.
Vincent Asaro had risen to prominence in the mob when it still held sway over entire sections of New York and other U.S. cities. A time when many mobsters had entire corrupt police precincts in their pocket, sometimes even a judge or two. Times had changed since then, but for Asaro, it seems, it was business as usual. He was wildin’ out like the youngsters he despised. Goodfellas had turned into The Sopranos.
Bonanno boss Joseph Massino had noticed Asaro wasn’t up to modern standards and, several years after making him a captain, decided to demote him back to the rank of soldier while promoting Asaro’s son Jerome to run his father’s crew instead. Jerome, or Jerry, had already served as acting captain while his father was in prison. By 2003, Jerry’s promotion was made official.
For Vincent Asaro his son’s promotion was pure torture. “Fuck Jerry. Fuck him in his ass. Fucking Jerry is for Jerry. Jerry’s for Jerry. I lost my son. I lost my son when I made him a skipper. I lost my son when I put him there. Jerry’s for Jerry. Fucking greedy cocksucker. Greedy cocksucker. Got him a job. $600 a fucking week, he was sending your son to do everything. He didn’t do a fucking thing. . . . (UI) the last fucking person in the world (UI). I lost my son when I made him as acting skipper,” he whined as a recording device picked up every word.
THERE IS AN “I” IN “FAMILY”
The Asaro family was behaving much like the fictional Soprano family we all came to know, love, and hate on television. Father and son were sometimes at each other’s throat like Tony and Uncle Junior. But when you hurt one of them, you better start praying because they will restore their family honor.
Like when Asaro’s daughter was hit in the face with a glass bottle. When Vincent Asaro found out about the incident, he directed Jerry repeatedly to retaliate. At that time, Jerry was just an associate of the Bonanno family. He told his father he would take care of the situation. And apparently he did, telling his cousin, Gaspare "Gary" Valenti, that he had shot the woman who attacked his sister in the buttocks in a bar in Queens, New York.
But when it comes to mob honor, or even street honor, things apparently work a lot more different. When one of their relatives was arrested on federal charges including insurance and mail fraud in the 1980s, he went to court and testified about what had happened.
This was a big no-no and a huge disgrace for Vincent Asaro, who immediately sought out Valenti to propose they kill their relative. Son Jerry chimed in saying he was upset that this man had become a “rat.” The Asaros had murder on their mind. Cousin Valenti was not so gung-ho about murdering a relative, though, and warned his cousin by passing a message through another relative. Hearing about his murderous family, the relative fled to Florida to escape father and son Asaro.
Unbeknownst to Valenti at the time, perhaps, he had already made a decision then and there regarding where he stood. In “the life” you are either in or you’re out. You go in alive, you come out dead. It’s very black and white. When he decided to warn his relative of the hit plans against him he had picked sides against the Mafia.
Years later, he would go all in and join Team America. While he was still out on the streets with the Asaros and their crew, Valenti was wearing a wire and recorded every conversation he had with his uncle Vincent and fellow mobsters.
By then, Vincent (right) and Jerry Asaro together with all members of the Mafia in New York had already been confronted with the biggest treachery ever in mob history when Bonanno leader Joseph Massino became the first ever Mafia boss to become a government witness.
Already decimated by dozens of big busts, the Bonanno family was in shambles. With Big Joey now telling the Feds about every racket and murder his family members had been involved in, many on orders from Massino himself, the future was uncertain.
Bosses came and went. Usually to prison.
By 2012, Thomas “Tommy D” Di Fiore had become acting boss. Di Fiore had been proposed for membership by Massino and performed Di Fiore’s induction ceremony in approximately 1985 or 1986. In the 1970s and 1980s, Di Fiore was responsible for picking up thousands of dollars per month in protection money that various trucking companies based at JFK were paying the Bonanno family.
Vincent Asaro did not particularly care for Di Fiore. For example, during a June 23, 2012, recording by Valenti, he said the following about his boss, “[N]ow we have a fuckin’ scumbag, the new boss. Cheap scumbag (UI) . . . . Some scumbag from Long Island.”
It was Di Fiore, however, who made Vincent a captain again. He also gave him a vote on the family’s “ruling panel.”
But when it came to money Asaro was very straightforward: Fuck you, pay me. At one point, Di Fiore was supposed to get $4,000 from the first extortionate collection from an associate, but Asaro kept that money for himself. By June of 2013, when an additional $30,000 had been collected on the loan, Di Fiore took half of the proceeds, according to Asaro, and demanded another $2,000 from Asaro as payback for the $4,000.
As Asaro told his cousin: “I had a big fight with him the other day. We had $30,000 coming, he took $15,000 of it. I want to kill this motherfucker. We had $30,000 coming…me, Jackie and Jerry. All right? He says, well without us we wouldn’t have collected it. So we went for the money, gave me five, they gave him 15. He says, “You owe me two.” Forget about the four, I owed him another two. Alright? “I’m taking that two.” I said Tom, I ain’t got nothing, man. I said, you’re taking 15? “Yeah, without me,” he says, “you wouldn’t a got nothing.”
“He’s that type of guy?” Valenti asks.
Asaro: “Oh he’s a cocksucker. Makes Joey Massino look like St. Anthony, motherfucker.”
OH, HEY, HENRY! HERE’S AN ARM!
When Massino began spilling his guts to the FBI, mobsters throughout the five boroughs had plenty of sleepless nights. If Vincent Asaro (left) had no such problems, things changed on June 17, 2013, when he was driving around with his cousin.
That day, acting on testimony by Massino, the FBI began to dig for the remains of mob associate Paul Katz at a location near Liberty Avenue. Around 10:00 a.m., Valenti told him about the dig.
Asaro: “What happened?”
Cousin: “The feds are all over Liberty Avenue.”
Asaro: “For what?”
Cousin: “I don’t know.”
Asaro parks his car, sighs, and continues the conversation.
Cousin: “You know what I mean?”
Asaro: “No, I don’t know what you mean. All right, let me go, go ahead, go—“
Cousin: “Where do you want me to go? What, what should I do?”
Asaro: “What should you do what?”
Asaro: “Nothing, what could you do?”
Cousin: “All right, well get in touch with me, let me know.”
Asaro: “I’ll see you later. Don’t call me!”
Cousin: “All right, don’t call you!”
After his cousin got out of his car, Asaro got in another car with a Bonanno associate and drove past the site where FBI agents were digging up the remains of Katz.
James Burke had come back to haunt Vinnie Asaro one more time.
In the 1960s, Paul Katz was associated with Burke. According to Asaro’s cousin Valenti. Asaro and Burke not only shared a close criminal association with one another they also shared an interest in Robert’s Lounge, a bar that served as a meeting place for both men’s crews.
Katz had a warehouse in Richmond Hill that Burke, Asaro, and other criminals used to store stolen merchandise. The warehouse was raided by law enforcement, and on one such raid, Asaro and others were arrested. After that bust, Asaro and Burke believed that Katz was an informant. Because of this belief, in 1969, Asaro and Burke killed Katz with a dog chain and buried him in the basement of a vacant house in Queens, New York.
In the 1980s, Asaro told his son and Valenti to dig up and move Katz’s body. At that time, Burke was incarcerated at Lewisberg prison and sent word to Asaro to move Katz’s body. Valenti recalled finding a human skull, bones, and some corduroy clothing material. Together they packaged the remains and then re-cemented the area.
But in 2013, the FBI found what they were looking for and with the help of testimony by Asaro’s cousin and former Mafia boss Massino they charged the elderly wiseguy with Katz’ murder.
TAKE IT TO COURT
The five Bonanno mobsters face various racketeering charges, but in reality this case is all about Vincent and Jerry Asaro. Thomas Di Fiore (70) faces two counts of racketeering, being a count of extortionate collection of credit and another count of conspiracy. For someone who is the current boss of the family the charges do not reflect his status. Standing before a judge, he pleaded not guilty.
For Vincent and Jerome this case is do or die. Jerome (55) might be able to arrange a plea deal, but his father has no other options but to go to trial and hope for the best. At 78 years old, Vincent Asaro won’t have much time left. An extremely lenient (and ridiculous) plea deal of just a few years could mean death behind bars.
“Vincent Asaro said that we are going to trial on this case -- there will be no plea," said Asaro’s lawyer Gerald McMahon. Son Jerome also pleaded not guilty. As did John Ragano (52). Jack Bonventre (45) will be arraigned today.
Since we are in such a reminiscing mood, let me end this story with yet another quote that I find appropriate when it comes to Vincent Asaro’s current ordeal.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
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