An elderly top mob member allegedly involved in the $6 million Lufthansa heist in 1978 has gone on trial in New York. The heist was dramatized in the classic mafia film "Goodfellas."
Vincent Asaro, a member of the Bonanno crime family, allegedly helped carry out the bold heist of $6 million (5.3 million euros) in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK airport in what Assistant US Attorney Lindsay Gerdes told a Brooklyn jury on Monday was "truly the score of all scores."
Asaro, 80, faces a host of charges including murder and extortion during a 45 year New York mafia career. "The defendant is a gangster, through and through," Gerdes said.
Asaro allegedly worked with other mob members and the late James Burke - also known as "Jimmy the Gent" - who was played by Robert De Niro in the 1990 film "Goodfellas." Burke was the alleged mastermind behind the heist.
Members of the heist team were allegedly killed by Burke to avoid them ratting to the police.
The case was one of the United States' most notorious unsolved crimes until Asaro was arrested last year.
Breaking ranks with the family
The first witness was Salvatore Vitale, the former number two in the Bonanno crime family and now a government informant. He testified that Asaro handed his boss,
Joseph Massino, a case full of gold chains from the heist. Vitale testified that he later took Massino to a New York diamond market and he "never saw the case again."
Vitale became an informant after his arrest in 2003. He is out of prison after serving time for 11 murders and is in a witness protection program.
Massino, who later became the head of the Bonanno crime family, is also expected to testify against Asaro. Massino became the highest level informant to break the mob's sacred rule of not ratting out members and talking to federal agents when he testified against his successor in 2011.
'Lies to save themselves'
Defense attorney Diane Ferrone argued the government was using unreliable informants that could not be trusted.
"When necessary, they lie to each other, and they lie to save themselves," Ferrone told the jury. Asaro is also accused for his role in the strangling to death a suspected informant with a dog chain in 1969.
According to court documents Asaro told his cousin that Burke killed the alleged informant because "because they believed he was a 'rat.'" The FBI dug up the body of the informant, Paul Katz, at Burke's former home in 2013.
Asaro faces life in prison if convicted of the charges.
cw/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)