Sunday 25 September 2016

Mobster 'shocked' after being acquitted over 1978 'Goodfellas' heist

Published 13/11/2015 | 13:16

Vincent Asaro leaves Brooklyn federal court after being acquitted of charges he helped plan a legendary 1978 Lufthansa heist (AP)
Vincent Asaro leaves Brooklyn federal court after being acquitted of charges he helped plan a legendary 1978 Lufthansa heist (AP)

An 80-year-old mobster grinned as he walked out of a US courthouse following his surprising acquittal on charges he helped plan a 1978 heist retold in the Mafia film Goodfellas.

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Vincent Asaro walked free on Thursday after a jury reached the verdict at a Brooklyn racketeering trial.

He told reporters: "I was shocked, I was really shocked. I've got two years in, and I'm dying to get home."

As he hopped into a waiting car, Mr Asaro quipped to one of his lawyers: "Sam, don't let them see the body in the trunk."

It was a stunning defeat for the federal government in a courthouse where prosecutors have won convictions of major mob figures like Gambino family head John Gotti and Genovese crime boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante over the years.

The US attorney's office declined to comment after the verdict. The jurors, granted anonymity by the judge, did not appear to depart through any public exits.

Witnesses had portrayed Mr Asaro as a throwback to an era when New York's five organised crime families comprised a secret society that committed brazen crimes and settled scores with bloodshed.

He managed to stay in the shadows for decades by adhering to the Mafia's strict code of silence.

Mr Asaro's father and grandfather were members of the secretive Bonanno crime family, and he "was born into that life and he fully embraced it", Assistant US Attorney Alicyn Cooley said in closing arguments.

His devotion to the Bonannos "was as permanent as the 'death before dishonour' tattoo on his arm," she added.

At trial, prosecutors described how Mr 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 hold-up at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport in 1978.

Taking the witness stand last month, Mr Asaro's cousin Gaspare Valenti testified that Mr Asaro and Mr Burke killed a suspected informant with a dog chain in 1969 before ordering Mr Valenti to help bury the body.

Mr Valenti also testified that Mr Asaro drafted him for the Lufthansa heist, telling him: "Jimmy Burke has a big score at the airport coming up, and you're invited to go."

When he learned about the mountain of 100 US dollar bills and jewels taken from a Lufthansa vault, Mr Asaro was "very happy, really euphoric", Mr Valenti testified.

He added: "We thought there was going to be two million dollars in cash and there was six million."

Asked what he thought of Mr Valenti after the trial, Mr Asaro said: "You don't even want to know."

Mr Asaro said he believed jurors found him not guilty because the prosecution's case was "overkill".

"She must've put 30 agents on the stand, all lies," he said of the prosecutor.

In the aftermath of the heist, Mr Asaro survived a bloodbath portrayed in Goodfellas, with Robert 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 claimed he collected at least 500,000 dollars from the score but had a gambling problem and squandered it away at the racetrack.

Outside court on Thursday, Mr Asaro said he would be going home to have a good meal - with his family.

Press Association

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