‘Goodfellas’ Gangster Vincent Asaro Found Not Guilty in Lufthansa Heist

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Vincent Asaro, the reputed mobster charged in connection with the notorious 1978 Lufthansa robbery, walked out of federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday a free man after a jury cleared him of racketeering and other charges.

The verdicts, delivered after little more than two days of deliberations, left many in the courtroom stunned, most visibly prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office, which had spent years building a case against Mr. Asaro, 80, with testimony from high-ranking Mafia figures and recordings by an informer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But the case relied heavily on the cooperation of some of those Mafia figures, some of them admitted killers, and the jury rejected the government’s accusation that Mr. Asaro helped carry out a criminal enterprise engaged in murder and robbery, most infamously the Lufthansa robbery, which figured prominently in the plot of the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.”

When the juror chosen to deliver the verdict said “Not guilty” on the first count — the racketeering charge, by far the most complicated and serious of the charges — there was a startled silence in the courtroom.

After the “not guilty” verdict on the second and third counts, for extortion, Mr. Asaro pumped his right fist in the air three times. Once the jury left, he clapped sharply, then hugged his lawyers. “Your Honor, thank you very much,” he said to the judge, Allyne R. Ross.

As he walked out of the courthouse on Cadman Plaza, Mr. Asaro, who had been jailed since January 2014, raised his hands in the air and shouted, “Free!”

Flanked by his lawyers, Elizabeth Macedonio and Diane Ferrone, he fielded a flurry of questions from reporters, who asked what he was going to do (“play some paddleball”), where he was heading (“to have a good meal and see my family”) and what he was going to eat (“anything but a bologna sandwich”). Indeed, he appeared delighted by the commotion his acquittal had created. “John Gotti didn’t get this much attention,” he said of the Gambino boss, who was notoriously hard to convict.

The jury, in Federal District Court, had begun deliberations late on Monday and continued through the week, with a break on Wednesday for Veterans Day. The jurors, whom the judge granted anonymity, did not appear to depart through any public areas or exits in the court.

To secure a conviction on the racketeering count — for which Mr. Asaro might have faced up to life in prison — prosecutors would have had to prove two or more of the 14 racketeering acts they alleged.

During a three-week trial, prosecutors argued that Mr. Asaro, whose father and grandfather were members of the Mafia, had committed murder and robbery and performed shakedowns and other crimes on behalf of his Mafia family, the Bonannos.

The most famous one was the robbery at the Lufthansa terminal at Kennedy International Airport. It was then said to be the largest cash robbery in United States history. Mr. Asaro helped plan it, prosecutors said, and his accomplices stole $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels from a cargo vault.

Although investigators had long suspected the Mafia’s involvement, they had not brought charges against any reputed Mafia member until the case against Mr. Asaro, leaving the matter officially unsolved for decades.

Prosecutors brought a queue of informers who testified about Mr. Asaro’s role in the Mafia and in various crimes. Evidence also included surveillance photos from the 1970s on, and the testimony of several F.B.I. agents who detailed the man’s comings and goings for several decades.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Stephanie Clifford