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American mobster acquitted of 1978 Lufthansa heist

A defendant has been cleared of all charges of involvement in the biggest robbery on US soil. The heist on a Lufthansa Airlines vault in New York City was immortalized in the award-winning film "Goodfellas."

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the US attorney's office in Brooklyn said 80-year-old Vincent Asaro, accused of being a member of the infamous Bonanno mafia, was acquitted of all charges - including murder, extortion and an armed robbery - at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

"I was shocked, I was really shocked," Asaro said outside the Brooklyn courthouse after a federal jury deemed him not guilty.

The verdict strikes a blow to federal prosecutors in New York, who won convictions of major mafia leaders, including John Gotti, head of the Gambino family.

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'Death before dishonor'

Prior to the verdict, Assistant US Attorney Alicyn Cooley said Asaro "was born into that life and he fully embraced it," referring to the man's alleged involvement with the Bonanno crime family.

Cooley added that Asaro's devotion to the mafia "was as permanent as the 'death before dishonor' tattoo on his arm."

Asaro also faced charges for a 1969 murder, which his cousin Gaspare Valenti - a witness in the trial - said he had committed using a dog chain.

The Lufthansa heist - epitomized in the Academy Award-winning film "Goodfellas" by director Martin Scorsese - is considered the largest to have taken place on US soil.

In 1978, armed mobsters entered a Lufthansa Airlines cargo bay and stole $5 million in cash, along with $1 million in precious jewels.

The value of the stolen goods in 2015 is estimated to be $20 million (21.5 million euros).

ls/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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