Being a cop can be plenty frustrating. The most famous heist in NYC history took place in December 1978 at JFK airport and involved the robbery of $5m in cash ($18.1m today) and $875,000 in jewelry ($3.2m today) from a Lufthansa airport holding facility. None of the loot was ever recovered and until this week no one was ever brought to justice.
The detectives almost immediately worked out who had planned it, James Burke of the Lucchese crime family, and were pretty sure of the identiities of all the actual robbers.
But evidence was hard to come by. Two other New York crime families were involved. One was the Gambino family who ‘controlled’ JFK and the Bonanno crime family one of whose members were part of the group of men who drive a black van up to the JFK holding facility, tied up all the employees and then forced one of them to open the vault where the money and jewelry was being held.
The heist was well planned and the robbery went relatively smoothly netting over 3 times the cash that had been anticipated. One mistake was made when a gang member didn’t dispose of the black van quickly enough and he was identified by police. This caused James Burke to order the killing of almost all the robbers so he couldn’t be linked to the crime.
He was never indicted for the robbery but he was for some of the murders and died in prison.
In 2014 Vincent Asaro of the Bonanno crime family, who waited with James Burke while the robbery took place was indicted for his involvement. Over the last two weeks in a Brooklyn Court, Gasper Valenti, who was part of the group who actually went into the vault and who helped transfer all the loot into the van, became first person to give an eyewitness account of what happened during the robbery ever heard in open court.
He essentially confirmed everything the hard working detectives had worked out, just adding in detail that only someone who was there could add.
We can only imagine what it feels for them right now to have finally got at least one of the men directly involved. In the time honored tradition of how formal justice catches up with members of new York’s crime gangs the witnesses against Asario are all stool pigeons, now in witness protection.
The story of the Lufthansa Heist has become something of a legend because of the planning involved and the amount of money stolen and there have been TV documentaries made about it. It also forms part of the plot of Scorsese’s film ‘Goodfellas’. For the detectives who have worked on this over the years, at last it looks as though they finally have a result.