Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Wed October 21 2015

Gangster Spills Details On Notorious Airline Heist

Features & Advice | Rich Thomaselli | October 21, 2015

Gangster Spills Details On Notorious Airline Heist

It was a notorious, legendary robbery made famous in one of the most popular gangster movies of all time — $6 million in cash and jewels snatched from Lufthansa Airlines in a cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1978, as chronicled in Martin Scorcese’s 1990 film "Goodfellas." 

Now, a real-life Mafia turncoat is testifying in Brooklyn federal court about the events of that night, and giving a fascinating inside account of what really went down. Gaspare Valenti is testifying for the prosecution in a racketeering case against his uncle, defendant Vincent Asaro.

Valenti testified Tuesday that the six robbers — including Tommy DeSimone, the character played by Joe Pesci in the movie — initially thought they were stealing about $2 million in this inside job facilitated by a cargo terminal employee.

After tying up other airline employees, DeSimone and Valenti walked into the vault at the terminal. Valenti testified that DeSimone picked up a box from a shelf, threw it on the floor, stepped on it, and then watched as a strange, yellow plastic foam oozed out. When DeSimone put his hand in the box, he pulled out two packs of cash totaling $125,000 each in $100 bills and turned to Valenti and said, “This is it, this is it!”

In the meantime, Asaro was about a mile from the airport in a car with Jimmy Burke — the Jimmy “The Gent” Conway character played by Robert DeNiro in the film. The six masked gunmen began using a makeshift assembly line, handing the boxes down from one man to the next and loading a van with not only the cash, but “burlap sacks of gold chains, crates of watches, a big 3-by-3 metal box with little drawers on it and each drawer had diamonds in it and emeralds and all different stones,” Valenti testified.

But, just as depicted in "Goodfellas," Asaro and Burke grew leery about having attention cast upon them as the orchestrators of the heist. Valenti said Burke "gave very little money out at the beginning," and when he did it was with the warning to not spend it in a lavish way that would draw the attention of law enforcement. Valenti testified that, nonetheless, Asaro bought a second home, a boat and a Bill Blass designer edition of a Lincoln Continental.

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