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  • The mob boss Vincent Asaro is believed to have participated directly in the Lufthansa heist of 1978.

    The mob boss Vincent Asaro is believed to have participated directly in the Lufthansa heist of 1978. | Photo: AFP

Published 20 October 2015

Vincent Asaro went on trial in New York accused of extortion, murder, violence and a heist worth US$6 million.

Suspected mob boss Vincent Asaro has gone on trial in New York for charges of extortion, murder and numerous acts of violence during his alleged 45-year mafia career, including the historic US$6-million Lufthansa heist in 1978, the New York Times reported.

Asaro, 80, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including the robbery at Lufthansa's cargo terminal at the John F. Kennedy Airport that provided Martin Scorsese with the plot to his film “Goodfellas.”

The alleged mobster was one of several armed men that carried out the historic robbery of cash and jewelry, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Gerdes told a federal jury in Brooklyn.

But defense lawyer Diane Ferrone said the government's case is based completely on testimonies of witnesses who are lying to avoid lengthy prison terms for their own crimes.

"When necessary, they lie to each other, and they lie to save themselves," she told the jurors, whose identities the judge in the case has ordered sealed for security purposes.

Ferrone also questioned that if according to federal officials Asaro is so dangerous and has committed so many homicides, why had he not been detained earlier.

The Lufthansa heist was one of the United States' most infamous unsolved crimes until last year, when Asaro was arrested and accused of many mafia-related crimes, including strangling a suspected informant to death with a dog chain in 1969.

U.S. authorities affirm that Asaro followed his grandfather and father into the "family business" in the 1970s.

"The defendant is a gangster, through and through," Gerdes assured the jurors.

Reuters said that most of the other suspected accomplices in the robbery either disappeared, died or were killed.

Several former members of the Bonanno family, one of five organized crime families in New York, are expected to testify for the government, Reuters added. The list includes former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino.

On Monday, Sal Vitale was the first to be place on the witness stand from where he explained the family's command structure and rules. He is Massino's former second-in-command.

The "Don'ts," Vitale said, include meeting federal agents, sleeping with another member's wife and killing someone without permission, while the “'Dos' are very simple: Just do what you're told."

Vital, who confessed to 11 murders during his mob career, said Asaro handed Massino a case full of gold chains soon after the Lufthansa robbery.

Police had decided long ago to close down their investigation into the Lufthansa robbery, fearing the mafia’s code of silence made convictions impossible.

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