Chief Investigative Reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

5 Alleged Mobsters Charged in Connection With Lufthansa Heist, Buried Bones

By Jonathan Dienst and Joe Valiquette
|  Friday, Jan 24, 2014  |  Updated 12:05 PM EDT
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The Justice Department arrested five men, allegedly members of the Bonanno family, on charges including murder, racketeering, extortion and robbery. One of the men was indicted for participating in the 1978 Lufthansa $5 Million robbery at Kennedy Airport. Andrew Siff reports.

The Justice Department arrested five men, allegedly members of the Bonanno family, on charges including murder, racketeering, extortion and robbery. One of the men was indicted for participating in the 1978 Lufthansa $5 Million robbery at Kennedy Airport. Andrew Siff reports.

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Photos and Videos

Raw Video: Alleged Mobsters Accused in Lufthansa Heist, Human Remains Case

This is raw video of the five men accused in the 1978 Lufthansa heist and the death of Paul Katz, whose remains were found buried on late gangster Jimmy Burke's property. Three of the five men pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn later Thursday, with the lawyer for one of them saying his client was "innocent, innocent, innocent." The other two suspects were expected to enter a plea later Thursday or on Friday.

From the Archives: 1978 Lufthansa Heist

Watch this news report on the 1978 Lufthansa heist from our archives.
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Five alleged mobsters, including several organized crime captains, have been arrested in connection with remains found during last summer's search of the Queens home of the late gangster who inspired Robert DeNiro's character in the movie "Goodfellas," and charges filed Thursday include offenses related to the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist, authorities said.

The nearly $6 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport was allegedly masterminded by Jimmy Burke, the late Lucchese family crime associate whose Ozone Park home was searched in June, and is considered one of the largest cash thefts in American history.

Hooded gunmen invaded the airline's cargo terminal and stole $5.8 million in untraceable U.S. currency being returned to the United States from Germany. The cash was never found. 

The FBI began digging at Burke's old home in mid-June as they searched for links to a missing organized crime associate who may have been involved in the heist, which authorities believe was planned at the Queens home. Investigators discovered bones buried in the ground that tests showed to be human, and law enforcement sources identified the remains as those of Burke associate Paul Katz.

The suspects arrested Thursday morning were arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy in connection with the discovery of those remains as well as the airport heist.

The suspects include alleged Bonanno crime family captains 78-year-old Vincent Asaro and his son, 55-year-old Jerome Asaro, as well as alleged mobsters 70-year-old Thomas "Tommy D" DiFiore, 52-year-old John "Bazoo" Ragano and Jack Bonventre, whose age wasn't clear.

Vincent Asaro, Jerome Asaro and Ragano pleaded not guilty. DiFiore was expected to enter a plea Thursday evening, and Bonventre was to enter a plea Friday. 

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The indictment, which details a nearly 50-year catalog of crime implicating the defendants that begins prior to the Lufthansa heist and continues through last summer, charges Vincent Asaro in Katz's murder.

It alleges that in December 1969, Asaro "together with others ... did knowingly and intentionally cause the death of Paul Katz," but provides no further details.

The indictment also alleges Vincent Asaro "together with others" stole millions of dollars in cash and jewelry in the Lufthansa heist, and lists "John Doe" witnesses to various forms of extortion and theft. 

All five suspects live in New York -- one upstate, two on Long Island and two in Queens. 

Burke specialized in hijacking, but according to law enforcement officials, he also was linked to crimes including loan sharking, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking. 

The mobster was arrested in 1982 for a parole violation — associating with a known felon — and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his part in a point-shaving scandal involving the Boston College basketball team. While in prison, Burke was indicted for the murder of a drug dealer whose body was found hogtied in a freezer truck in Brooklyn. He was sentenced to 20 years to life for second-degree murder.

He died behind bars in 1996, at age 64, almost two decades after the airport robbery. Since the cash from the heist was never found and for lack of evidence, Burke was never prosecuted for the theft or for the bloodletting that followed: several of the alleged participants were murdered.

Burke's wife continued to live in the house for some years after his death.

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