Breaking News Emails
NEW YORK — The robbery crew that pulled off one of the biggest heists in U.S. history — the $6 million Lufthansa theft immortalized in "Goodfellas" — was elated at first, but became fearful of being robbed itself, a turncoat mobster testified Tuesday at the trial of his former Mafia boss.
The defendant, Vincent Asaro, was "very happy, really euphoric" when he learned about the mountain of $100 bills scored in the armed holdup in 1978, Gaspare Valenti told a jury in Brooklyn federal court. "We thought there was going to be $2 million in cash and there was $6 million."
But Valenti testified that the joy quickly evaporated when Asaro warned him, "We've got to be real careful now. They'll look to rob us. They'll look to kill us. It could be anyone who hears of the score."
The testimony marked the first time Valenti, who is Asaro's cousin, has publicly given his blow-by-blow account of the heist. Prosecutors say he voluntarily came forward in 2008, implicated Asaro and agreed to testify against him in violation of the Mafia's once-sacred vow of silence.
After taking the witness stand Tuesday, Valenti, 68, was asked to point out Asaro in the courtroom and describe an article of clothing he was wearing — a blue V-neck sweater. He then described how he started committing robberies, arson and other crimes for the 80-year-old defendant in the 1960s as an obedient Bonanno organized crime family associate.
"I was very close with him. ... We had, like, a bond," he said.
Valenti testified that his involvement in the heist orchestrated by James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke — played by Robert De Niro in the movie — began when Asaro told him, "Jimmy Burke has a big score at the airport coming up, and you're invited to go."
The plan called for Valenti and another robber to take a stolen black van to the airport terminal and use bolt cutters to break into a side entrance, he said. Once inside the terminal, they teamed up with other armed and masked bandits who were holding several workers hostage in a lunch room, he said.
The crew forced one of the workers to open a safe, where they discovered dozens of boxes containing packets holding $125,000 each, bags of gold chains and containers with precious gems that they threw into the van, he said. They then fled and rendezvoused with Asaro and Burke, who were in a car about a mile away, he said.
Asked if the crew had an escape plan, Valenti responded, "No. It's amazing — a robbery that big and nothing was discussed about where to go afterward."
Asaro and Burke decided the haul should be put in the basement of Valenti's Brooklyn home before it was moved to various stash houses, the witness said. Burke "gave very little money out at the beginning," he said, and when he did, it was with a caveat: Don't spend it in a lavish way that would draw the attention of law enforcement.
Still, he said, Asaro used it to buy a second home, a boat and a Bill Blass designer edition of a Lincoln Continental. Prosecutors have said Asaro also gambled away a big chunk of his $750,000 cut at the racetrack.
Valenti testified that as years passed, his own gambling habit put him deeper and deeper in debt and at odds with Asaro. He was expected to resume testifying on Wednesday.
The defense has accused Valenti and other admitted mobsters expected to testify at the trial of framing Asaro to win leniency in their own cases. If convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other charges, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.