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An Inside Look at the Heist Dramatized in 'Goodfellas'

The New York Times The New York Times 20/10/2015 By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
Vincent Asaro, seen here flanked by F.B.I. agents in January 2014, is on trial in Brooklyn for the Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport in 1978 and other crimes. © Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters Vincent Asaro, seen here flanked by F.B.I. agents in January 2014, is on trial in Brooklyn for the Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport in 1978 and other crimes.

Wearing black ski masks and gloves and driving a stolen van, six Mafia members and associates came to a stop outside a terminal at Kennedy International Airport on a December night in 1978, for what they thought would be a $2 million robbery.

A mile away, Vincent Asaro, who is now on trial in Brooklyn in connection with the holdup, waited with James Burke for the action to unfold.

Minutes later, after the employees at the Lufthansa terminal had been rounded up at gunpoint, the six robbers forced one of them to open the vault. Tommy DeSimone walked in first, followed by Gaspar Valenti, who testified on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, recounting his role in one of New York City’s most infamous crimes.

Mr. DeSimone picked up a box from a shelf on their right, threw it on the floor and stepped on it. Yellow plastic foam erupted from the box. He inserted his hand and removed two packs of money: Each contained $125,000 in hundred-dollar bills.

“This is it, this is it!” Mr. DeSimone said, according to Mr. Valenti. “Take all these 50 boxes!”

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The crew made a human chain and began handing the boxes down, loading them into the van along with “burlap sacks of gold chains, crates of watches, a big three-by-three metal box with little drawers on it and each drawer had diamonds in it and emeralds and all different stones,” Mr. Valenti said.

They stole $6.25 million in cash, plus the jewelry and German bank notes. The Lufthansa heist, which prosecutors called the biggest cash robbery in New York history, went unsolved for decades.

On Dec. 13, 1978, the police in Brooklyn cordoned off the area around the stolen black van believed to be used in the Lufthansa heist. © Ken Murray/Associated Press On Dec. 13, 1978, the police in Brooklyn cordoned off the area around the stolen black van believed to be used in the Lufthansa heist.

On Tuesday, Mr. Valenti, a cousin of Vincent Asaro, took the witness stand, holding the courtroom riveted as he provided perhaps the most detailed public account of the robbery, which was dramatized in the Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.” He spoke of his long history with Mr. Asaro, and he recounted not only the Lufthansa scheme but also other feuds, crimes and escapades.

There was a disrespectful Doberman pinscher killed by a Mafia associate in the dead of night, prompting a fight with his owner. There was the time Mr. Valenti was planning on robbing a wedding hall dressed as a woman, in burgundy boots, a wig and a woman’s coat. When passers-by began making fun of the bearded lady, his partner in crime pulled out a pistol “to defend my honor.”

“He says, ‘They can’t talk to you like that,’” he continued. “I says: ‘We’re on a score here. Forget about it.’”

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