Goodfellas mobster who masterminded the Lufthansa heist to be released from jail because coronavirus


A reputed mobster whose legendary airport robbery was recounted in the movie ‘Goodfellas’ has been released over fears he could contract coronavirus while serving his eight-year prison sentence. 

Vinny Asaro, 85, was jailed in 2017 on arson charges following a 2012 road-rage incident. 

But on Friday, he was granted compassionate release from prison over concerns he could possibly die should he catch the contagious disease.  

Asaro suffered a stroke last year which potentially would place him at risk of COVID-19.

Vincent Asaro was released from prison in Missouri on Friday over fears he could contract coronavirus due to poor health and suffering a stroke last year. He is pictures here in 2015

Vincent Asaro is pictured leaving court in 2015. On Friday, he was granted compassionate release from prison over concerns he could possibly die should he catch coronavirus

Vincent Asaro is pictured leaving court in 2015. On Friday, he was granted compassionate release from prison over concerns he could possibly die should he catch coronavirus 

‘If Asaro were to contract COVID-19, given his age and current state, it is not unlikely that the consequences would be dire,’ Brooklyn federal Judge Allyne Ross wrote in a 16-page ruling.   

Ross is the same judge who presided over his 2015 trial in which Asaro was cleared on charges that he took part in the Lufthansa job as well as the 1969 gangland murder of associate Paul Katz according to the New York Post.

Asaro was being held at a medical prison in Springfield, Missouri.

Although there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the facility, the disease has been spreading throughout the state.   

The US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn has said prosecutors are reviewing Judge Ross’ ruling and are weighing legal options.

Asaro was sentenced to eight years in prison for road rage arson in 2017. The sentence was double what federal guidelines set out as punishment for a 2012 car torching

Asaro was sentenced to eight years in prison for road rage arson in 2017. The sentence was double what federal guidelines set out as punishment for a 2012 car torching

At his sentencing in 2017, Asaro called his jailing ‘a death sentence.’

The sentence was more than double what federal guidelines set out as punishment for the 2012 car torching, which prosecutors said resulted when Asaro directed Bonanno crime family associates to track down and set afire the car of a motorist he believed had cut him off.

Asaro, speaking before the announcement of the sentence, said he was ‘terribly sorry’.

‘I was on my way home,’ he said. ‘It happened. It just got out of hand.’

At the time, judge Ross said she had ‘no illusion’ that prison will result in Asaro’s rehabilitation or bring an end to his ‘lifelong career as a member of the Mafia’.

The prison term resulted from a road rage encounter between Asaro and a motorist who became 'embroiled in a high-speed chase at the hands of an enraged Asaro,' the FBI said

The prison term resulted from a road rage encounter between Asaro and a motorist who became ’embroiled in a high-speed chase at the hands of an enraged Asaro,’ the FBI said

She said she was mindful of Asaro’s 2015 acquittal in the infamous 1978 heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, a robbery retold in the 1990 hit film ‘Goodfellas,’ starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci.

His prison term resulted from a road rage encounter between Asaro and a motorist who became ’embroiled in a high-speed chase at the hands of an enraged Asaro,’ the FBI said.

Asaro contacted an associate with access to a local law enforcement database, identified the license plate information of the car and triggered a plan to burn the car in front of the motorist’s home, said the head of New York’s FBI office, William F. Sweeney Jr.

Acting US Attorney Bridget M. Rohde said Asaro’s sentence was ‘for a lifetime of violent criminal activity’.

At his 2017 sentencing, the judge said she was mindful of Asaro's 2015 acquittal in the infamous 1978 heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK Airport, a robbery retold in the 1990 hit film 'Goodfellas,' starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta (right) and Joe Pesci (left)

At his 2017 sentencing, the judge said she was mindful of Asaro’s 2015 acquittal in the infamous 1978 heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK Airport, a robbery retold in the 1990 hit film ‘Goodfellas,’ starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta (right) and Joe Pesci (left)

The mobster-turned-FBI informant portrayed by Liotta (above) in the movie, Henry Hill, is said to have told an author that Asaro 'had no involvement' in the Lufthansa heist

The mobster-turned-FBI informant portrayed by Liotta in the movie, Henry Hill (above), is said to have told an author that Asaro 'had no involvement' in the Lufthansa heist

The mobster-turned-FBI informant portrayed by Liotta in the movie, Henry Hill (seen right in 2018), is said to have told an author that Asaro ‘had no involvement’ in the Lufthansa heist 

Robert Di Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci starred in the 1990 film Goodfellas. It portrayed the Lufthansa heist where in the early hours of December 11, 1978, half a dozen armed men wearing ski masks broke into the vault inside the Lufthansa Cargo building at John F Kennedy Airport, New York

Robert Di Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci starred in the 1990 film Goodfellas. It portrayed the Lufthansa heist where in the early hours of December 11, 1978, half a dozen armed men wearing ski masks broke into the vault inside the Lufthansa Cargo building at John F Kennedy Airport, New York

Assistant US Attorney Nicole Argentieri called Asaro a ‘one-man crime wave’ and said he was a hero in his Queens neighborhood after he was acquitted at trial.

‘It’s time to send a message, to break the cycle,’ she said.

Interestingly enough, the mobster-turned-FBI informant portrayed by Ray Liotta in the Goodfellas film, Henry Hill, is said to have told an author that Asaro ‘had no involvement’ in the Lufthansa heist. 

Nonetheless, Asaro remains the only individual connected to the mob who was ever formally charged in connection to the robbery. 

A police car is parked beside a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn. The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in the decades-old airport heist

A police car is parked beside a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn. The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in the decades-old airport heist

This photo shows a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn that police suspected was the van used by thieves who escaped with more than $6 million in cash and jewels from JFK in 1978

This photo shows a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn that police suspected was the van used by thieves who escaped with more than $6 million in cash and jewels from JFK in 1978

The mastermind of the robbery was James 'Jimmy the Gent' Burke (seen above left after his arrest in 1979), the Irish mobster with the Bonanno crime organization. He was portrayed in the film by De Niro.

The mastermind of the robbery was James 'Jimmy the Gent' Burke, the Irish mobster with the Bonanno crime organization. He was portrayed in the film by De Niro (above)

The mastermind of the robbery was James ‘Jimmy the Gent’ Burke (seen left after his arrest in 1979), the Irish mobster with the Bonanno crime organization. He was portrayed in the film by De Niro (right). The federal government says Burke and Asaro were close associates

The judge said she reviewed evidence from the trial she had presided over and cited proof Asaro had participated in a 1969 murder and had admitted his role and obtained jewelry from the armed robbery of more than $6 million in cash and jewelry from the Lufthansa terminal.

In 2015, Asaro's son, Jerome Asaro (above), was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison

In 2015, Asaro’s son, Jerome Asaro (above), was sentenced to 7 and a half years in prison

‘He remains dangerous to the public,’ she said.

The 1969 murder which the judge referred to was that of Paul Katz.

According to the New York Post, Katz was an associate of both Asaro and James ‘Jimmy the Gent’ Burke.

Burke was the Irish mobster who was portrayed in the Scorsese classic by De Niro.

He was also the mastermind of the Lufthansa heist. 

Federal prosecutors have long maintained that Burke and Asaro killed Katz because Burke suspected that he was secretly cooperating with the FBI.

Katz, who was strangled to death with a dog chain, was then buried underneath Burke’s home in Ozone Park, Queens. 

There they found some of Katz’s remains that Jerome Asaro failed to remove. 

In March 2015, Jerome Asaro was sentenced to 7 and a half years in federal prison. 

Before the announcement of the sentence, defense attorney Elizabeth Macedonio blamed the government for the long prison term, saying prosecutors were 'asking you to sentence him for crimes he was acquitted of that occurred 50 or 60 years ago'. Asaro pictured in 201

The US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn has said prosecutors are reviewing Judge Ross’ ruling and weighing legal options. Asaro is pictured here in 2014

How the Lufthansa heist went down

In the early hours of December 11, 1978, half a dozen armed men wearing ski masks broke into the vault inside the Lufthansa Cargo building at John F Kennedy Airport, New York.

In just 64 minutes, they stole $5million in cash and $1million in jewels – a total of $21million in today’s money – making it the biggest heist in American history at the time.

A police car is parked beside a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn. The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in the decades-old airport heist

A police car is parked beside a stolen black van discovered in Brooklyn. The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in the decades-old airport heist

Preparation for the crime began months earlier when cargo agent Louis Werner, who worked at the vault, tipped mobsters off about piles of untraceable cash being held in the building.

The cash arrived by jet, and was sometimes stored overnight, before being taken and deposited in banks all over the city.

Werner tipped off Henry Hill, a mobster from the Lucchese family, who passed the information along to Burke, who allegedly planned the robbery.

At around 3am on December 11, the robbers pulled into the Lufthansa cargo hold’s loading platform in a black van.

According to Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, a security guard who went to investigate was hit over the head with a handgun, before being forced to deactivate a silent alarm on the property.

Werner had already given the men a blueprint of the building’s complicated system of corridors and alarms, allowing them to move inside at speed.

Werner had also given them the names of each employee and details about their lives so they could threaten to have their families ‘taken care of’ if anybody got out of line.

They quickly rounded up the rest of the staff in a lunch room, duct-taped their mouths shut and forced them to call their manager upstairs.

Once he arrived, the masked men forced him to open the vault, again threatening to kill his family if he resisted, before taking the cash and jewels inside.

The men had been expecting to take less than half of the total they eventually got away with, and so afterwards began to go on a spending spree with their new riches.

That made Burke, the organizer of the heist, nervous of drawing police attention, so he began killing off his co-conspirators one at a time in order to ensure their silence.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk