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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Prosecutors deliver final statements in Bonanno captain's trial

Hoping to finally slam the legal door on one of the most iconic crimes in American history, a prosecutor squarely accused “Goodfellas” goon Vinny Asaro of key involvement in the famed 1978 Lufthansa heist — immortalized in the classic 1990 film — during her final statement to jurors Friday.

Calling him “the ultimate tough guy,” prosecutor Alicyn Cooley portrayed Asaro, now a grandfatherly 80-year-old with slicked-back gray hair, as a violent hoodlum with a manic appetite for ill-gotten gains.

“He lived by and personally enforced the Mafia’s code — death before dishonor,” Cooley said. “He’s the ultimate tough guy.”

The government’s case, laid out over three weeks, hinged on the devastatingly detailed recollections of Asaro’s turncoat cousin, Bonanno associate Gaspare Valenti.

The marginal mafioso-turned-star witness vividly described the night in December 1978 when he and a crew of hoods breached a cargo area at Kennedy Airport, subdued employees and eventually piled $6 million in cash and jewels into a van before speeding off into the Queens night.

Valenti testified that Asaro was parked roughly a mile away from the airport during the heist along with reputed mastermind and Lucchese associate Jimmy “The Gent” Burke.

After haphazard dispersal, much of the Lufthansa loot was squandered at racetracks and on indulgent purchases. Concerned that his colleagues would eventually snitch, an increasingly paranoid Burke methodically had his accomplices whacked. Modal Trigger 
Vincent Asaro (right) with his cousin Gaspare Valenti in an undated photo.

But it wasn’t until 30 years later, when a broke and beleaguered Valenti called the feds and offered to unlock his vault of Mafia secrets, that the cold case would finally begin to thaw.

While collecting $3,000 a month from the feds in exchange for his knowledge, Valenti wore a wire for years on behalf of his handlers, recording countless hours of mostly mundane and profane banter with his oblivious cousin.

But Valenti managed to delicately steer the conversation to the Lufthansa heist on a few scattered occasions. Prosecutors asserted at trial that Asaro’s mutterings obliquely referenced his involvement in the score and his displeasure with the spoils.

In a recorded 2011 conversation, Valenti and Asaro, both aged and now all but insolvent, lamented that the Lufthansa score loot wasn’t properly dispersed.

“We got f—– all around. Got f—– all round,” Asaro complained​ on tape. “That f—— Jimmy, he kept everything,” Asaro groused, blaming Burke for hoarding the booty for himself while squeezing out his colleagues.

“It’s life, we did it to ourselves,” Asaro ​lamented after discussing another accused Lufthansa heist participant who had been reduced to begging for cigarettes.

Cooley, during her Friday statement, also charged Asaro with the brutal slaying of a Mafia associate he suspected of turning rat in 1969. Paul Katz ran a warehouse that served as a way station for stolen goods that were hijacked by Burke and his mob cohorts.

After the facility was raided, Burke began to suspect Katz of turning stool pigeon. The feds claim that Asaro joined Burke in murdering Katz with a dog chain and stuffed his corpse underneath a Queens home.

“They strangled Katz with a dog chain and buried his body — concealing evidence of their horrific crime,” Cooley said.

The Lufthansa heist makes the front page on Dec. 11, 1978.

Through a parade of witnesses, the feds had painted an intricate portrait of Asaro as a lifelong, dedicated Mafia hoodlum whose father and grandfather were both made men.

The famously volatile hood frequently expressed his displeasure over the course of the trial, mumbling profanities as a procession of former comrades turned cooperators as they calmly sought to bury him on the stand.

His lawyers, Elizabeth Macedonio and Diane Ferrone, tried to hammer away at the Mafia songbirds as inveterate liars whose word was paid for by the government and couldn’t be trusted.

But Cooley told jurors Friday to set aside their personal opinions of the cooperators in assessing their testimony.

“The question is not if you like them, it’s whether you believe them,” she said.

Cooley told jurors Friday that Asaro was nothing more than an incorrigible crook who not only took part in the Mafia life, but reveled in it. Modal Trigger 
Vinny Asaro and John Gotti (in dark shirt) outside the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Queens in an undated photo.

“Vincent Asaro wanted the power that came with getting his button,” she said. “Getting made.”

“He was born into that life and he fully embraced it.”

Cooley was to continue her summation before Asaro’s lawyers offered their final statement Friday afternoon.

The sensational trial brought several of the characters from Martin Scorsese’s film to life. Burke, portrayed by Robert De Niro as “Jimmy Conway,” was depicted by witnesses as a prolific, feared and unpredictable crook.

Tommy DeSimone, played by Joe Pesci as “Tommy DeVito,” was described as a bloodthirsty gun nut who tested out a new silencer in the hours before the Lufthansa heist.

Minor Lufthansa participant Parnell “Stacks” Edwards, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the flick, once accompanied Asaro to confront another mobster after he killed a dog Asaro claimed to own, according to testimony.


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