The Mafia has aged just like much of America and the rest of the world. Guys who are up and coming no longer want a long apprenticeship. They want everything now and have no intention of waiting. Yet mafia leaders are living longer than ever. The problem is just like the problem that faces legitimate Americans - they can no longer earn like they could in their heyday. Today the problem with the aging Mafia is even more pronounced because the Feds take your assets away with powerful laws like RICO. Let's say you own a business and property. Today they seize it and after your prison term you come back to nothing. Not the case with Vincent Asaro, a former Bonanno Capo who is now on trial in Manhattan US District Court for (among other things) the 1978 robbery of $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry from Lufthansa Airlines. It was most famously portrayed on the big screen in the movie Goodfellas.
Vincent Asaro is now 80 years old and not only facing the robbery charge from the Lufthansa heist, but a 44 year old murder. Paul Katz was an associate of Jimmy Burke’s, the Irish hoodlum made famous by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. Burke got information from his law enforcement sources that Katz was cooperating so he strangled him with a dog chain. Burke and Asaro buried him in a vacant queens home under some concrete. Years later Burke contacted Asaro from prison and had him move the skeleton to the basement of a home he owned. It might never have been discovered, but one of the men who helped decided to cash in on his time in the Mafia.
Gaspare Valenti, a cousin of Asaro, was over his head in gambling debts. So, he went to the FBI. He started wearing a wire and he recorded over 1000 hours of conversations with many Bonanno family members. Valenti was paid by the FBI the whole time he was wearing a wire.
The lawyer for Asaro is making a big deal about this, but Asaro’s words come from his mouth and that is a fact. What the US Attorneys fail to realize is that American juries that are made up of mostly blue collar and retired people are sick of these government vendettas.
They spend millions of dollars paying a loser criminal to record another older criminal for a crime that took place 30 years ago. They cannot stop the killings today or the invasion from Mexico, but they waste resources to go after an old man?
The government spent 3 weeks presenting its case, which included playing some bad tapes of Asaro complaining he did not get his share of the famous heist. He even spoke about being worried he would be put on the shelf by the Bonanno family. The problem is that most of the tapes are bad and they are spoken in a code. They have to be explained by Valenti and he did not come across as likable. Juries also resent that murderers and criminals get paid by the FBI when they have to work hard just to live. The former Underboss Sal Vitale made an appearance on the stand. He was above Asaro and made millions and murdered many people, yet he is free?
The case rested on the tapes, yet as damning as they were, Asaro never says Lufthansa or admits directly to murder. They brought in 33 witnesses and dozens of pictures but not one picture showed Asaro engaged in a criminal act.
Valenti did describe how the robbery of Lufthansa went down. It is a riveting first hand description of what it was like to break in and steal so much cash. They formed a chain and handed over 50 boxes of $125k in cash from the vault to the van. How did they plan the robbery so well, only to forget to have a place to keep the cash afterwards? They ended up keeping it at Valenti’s home for the next couple of days. They had no idea that there would be so much cash and the heat it would cause. The police found the black van just like in the movie Goodfellas. They found the yellow styrofoam popcorn that was used in the boxes to pack the cash. They just ate the details up, but all that showed them was that Valenti was in on the robbery.
Asaro’s lawyer spent just one afternoon on two witness and then rested. The jury took two days but came back with a not guilty verdict on all counts. After two years in custody, Asaro was free to go. The first place he went was to get a plate of pasta.