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Lufthansa Heist in 1978 Linked to Arrests of 5 Suspected Mobsters

Image: Lufthansa Heist in 1978 Linked to Arrests of 5 Suspected Mobsters Bonanno crime family leader Vincent Asaro, center, is escorted by FBI agents.

By Michael Mullins   |   Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 12:05 PM

The infamous Lufthansa Heist of 1978, highlighted in Martin Scorsese's iconic 1990 mafia film "Goodfellas," is tied to a series of recent arrests involving five alleged mobsters in New York.

On Thursday, five reported members of a New York crime family were taken into custody and charged with crimes including racketeering, murder and the long-unsolved 1978 Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Reuters reported.

According to unsealed court papers, the men were believed to be members of the Bonanno crime family and had allegedly committed acts of extortion and arson, in part connected to the airport heist.

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Nearly $6 million was taken during the Lufthansa heist which was allegedly masterminded by James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, a mafia associate who died in prison in 1996, serving a sentence for the murder of a drug dealer. In the "Goodfellas" movie, Burke's character was played by Robert De Niro.

The arrests were tied to an investigation stemming from the recovery of human remains at a property owned by a relative of Burke's last summer, according to FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser.

Among the five arrested Thursday was Vincent Asaro, considered a high-ranking member of the Bonanno family, who was charged with the theft of $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry from the Lufthansa heist, NBC News reported.

In addition, the 78-year-old Asaro was also indicted in connection with the killing of Paul Katz in 1969. Katz's murder was apparently connected with Burke's belief that he was working with law enforcement, the Associated Press reported.

Asaro's 55-year-old son Jerome was also arrested and charged with stealing $1.25 million in gold salts from Federal Express.

The other three arrested in the alleged mob roundup were Thomas "Tommy D" DiFiore, 70; John "Bazoo" Ragano, 52, and Jack Bonventre, whose age wasn't specified. All three were reportedly charged with other crimes that included extortion and racketeering that according to officials were not directly related to the 1978 heist.

Burke was never prosecuted for the theft due to law enforcement's failure to find sufficient evidence to go forward with the case against him. The stolen money was never recovered.

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