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Alleged NYC mobster charged in 1978 'Goodfellas' heist (+video)

Five alleged New York mobsters were indicted Thursday on a range of charges, including one accused of taking part in the 1978 theft of cash and valuables worth $6 million from JFK airport.

By Staff writer / January 23, 2014

FBI agents flank alleged mobster Vincent Asaro as they escort him from FBI offices in Manhattan on Thursday. More than 30 years after the crime, Asaro was indicted in the $6 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport, a crime dramatized in the movie 'Goodfellas.'

Charles Eckert/Newsday/AP

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Just over 35 years ago, in a heist that lasted a mere 64 minutes, masked crooks lifted some $5 million in cash and about $875,000 in jewels from a vault at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

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Staff Writer

Elizabeth Barber is a staff writer at The Christian Science Monitor. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and English from SUNY Geneseo. Before coming to the Monitor, she was a freelance reporter at DNAinfo, a New York City breaking news site. She has also been an intern at The Cambodia Daily, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and at Washington D.C.’s The Middle East Journal.

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The crime is still among the largest cash robberies in the US – in modern dollars, the lost sum and goods are valued at more than $20 million, ABC News reports. It has also gained notoriety from the 1990 movie “Goodfellas” and became immortalized as the Lufthansa heist, after the airline that delivered the valuables to the airport.

But for more than three decades, most of the caper’s alleged participants had gone uncharged, eluding authorities in a cat-and-mouse game throughout New York that had racked up a body count and rankled the FBI.

That game appeared to come nearer to a conclusion Thursday, when federal agents took five alleged New York mobsters into custody on charges of involvement in a slew of unsolved crimes over the past 40-plus years, including the Dec. 11, 1978, theft. The defendants – known in mob parlance as “goodfellas” or “wiseguys” – were arraigned Thursday in federal district court in Brooklyn.

“These ‘goodfellas' thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted," George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge of the New York field office, told Reuters.

"It may be decades later, but the FBI's determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver," he said.

The arrests, made across the New York metro area in predawn raids, came after months of new leads and investigations, ABC News reported. One lead led to the FBI’s search in mid-June of the home of the suspected ringleader of the crime, James Burke, who had lived in Queens, according to Reuters.

Burke died in 1996 while serving a life sentence for a murder conviction unconnected to the Lufthansa heist. His wife still lived at the home the two had shared in the Queens neighborhood of South Ozone Park, NBC News reported. 

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