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Octogenarian Mobster In Lufthansa Heist Case Is One Of A Kind

Jerry Capeci is considered an expert on the mob. He is the founder of the website, Gang Land News, a paid subscription site.  This article was republished with permission.
 
By Jerry Capeci
Gang Land News

Bonanno capo Vincent Asaro has a lot of firsts on his Mafia resume. The 80-year-old Queens man is a third generation mobster, having followed his father and grandfather into the mob. He added yet another generation when he sponsored his son to be a “made man.” He is also the only wiseguy ever charged with taking part in one of Gang Land’s most famous crimes, the storied $6 million Lufthansa Airlines heist. A former heroin addict, Asarokicked the habit “cold turkey” in the 1950s. He also kicked some ass. After a group of men abused his old man, he used his fists to pummel them, one at a time, while a cohort held the rest of the crowd at bay with a firearm.

Those are some of the high — or low — lights of Asaro’s career according to a trio of federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who want to keep him behind bars for how ever many years he has left. That’s where he’s been for the past 16 months as he awaits trial for the daring pre-dawn Kennedy Airport robbery in 1978, as well as for a 1969 murder.

Last week, prosecutors asked Judge Alynne Ross to let them use evidence about Asaro’s “heroin use, illegal gambling and borrowing money” at his upcoming trial. They say that is “necessary to complete the story of the charged crimes” for the jurors who will have to decide whether Asaro is

guilty of murder and a slew of other crimes in what they describe as a 45-year-long racketeering conspiracy.

The prosecutors say they have “many witnesses” prepared to testify how Asaro “evolved from a teenage heroin addict into a mastermind of the Lufthansa Heist.”

The witnesses would describe a “powerful but broke mafia leader,” one who substituted one addiction for another by blowing all the money he made during his life of crime by “gambling, both illegal and legal, to anextreme degree.”

He is not the first mobster to become addicted to heroin, but Asaro, who was on a three-member Bonanno family ruling panel in 2012, is the first known ex-junkie to serve as an Administration member of one of the notorious Five Families.

“The defendant’s story is one of redemption and loss,” prosecutors Nicole Argentieri, Alicyn Cooley and Lindsay Gerdes wrote. “Witnesses are expected to testify regarding the defendant’s drug addiction and how he apparently beat it ‘cold turkey’ so that he could join the Asaros’ ranks of mafia soldiers. In addition, (they) are expected to testify that (Asaro) at one point was demoted from the rank of captain due to, among other things, his repeated appropriation of money from the individuals assigned to him in order to feed his gambling addiction.”

In the 1960s, after he kicked his heroin habit, Asaro “earned respect from the mafia for being an earner,” by taking part in “robberies, the sale of stolen goods and loansharking,” prosecutors wrote. In that decade, his father Jerome schooled him, and introduced him to James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, the murderous Luchese gangster who is the recognized mastermind of the heist, they wrote.

In a voluminous 72-page filing, the prosecutors write that testimony by six cooperating witnesses will directly link Asaro’s heroin addiction and his obsessive gambling losses to his guilt of many charged crimes in the indictment, particularly the Lufthansa robbery.

“Many cooperating witnesses and civilian witnesses with personal knowledge of the defendant are expected to testify that the defendant struggled with heroin addiction as a teenager and into his twenties,” wrote prosecutors Argentieri, Cooley and Gerdes.

Among those prepared to testify about the Bonanno veteran are Asaro’s cousin Gaspar (Gary) Valenti, 68, who says he took part in the Lufthansa heist with Burke, as well as a second witness, former Gambino associate Anthony Ruggiano Jr., 61, who would detail Asaro’s heroin use — as well as his compulsive gambling, the prosecutors wrote.

Ruggiano “is expected to testify that the defendant used heroin with an individual from the neighborhood,” and Valenti “is expected to testify that (Asaro) directed him to store proceeds from the Lufthansa Heist with the brother of that individual, who (Valenti) knew used heroin with the defendant when they were teenagers,” the prosecutors wrote.

The mob turncoats, who include turncoat Mafia boss Joseph Massino and his underboss brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale, are not identified by name in the court papers.

Valenti told the feds he began committing crimes with Asaro in the 1960s, when they lived across the street from each other. He started slowly, storing and then selling “swag” for Asaro, including men’s suits, boutonnieres, and a truckload of women’s boots he sold to neighborhood women from his living room. The first time Asaro was in Robert’s Lounge, the South Ozone Park hangout where Burke planned the Lufthansa job, the prosecutors wrote, Valenti picked up a load of stolen Oleg Cassini shirts from Burke that he stored in his home and “fenced” for Asaro.

In the 1970s, Valenti claims he stole cars, was involved in pornography, hijacked trucks and committed several robberies with Asaro crew members who invariably had to turn over most of the loot to Asaro, the prosecutors wrote.

Valenti and former Gambino associate Peter (Bud) Zuccaro will each testify that Asaro kept the $750,000 share that Valenti was slated to get for the heist, the prosecutors wrote. Zuccaro, 58, says he learned about that greedy grab from Burke’s son Frankie, who also took part in the robbery.

Zuccaro, Valenti and Massino will testify that shortly after Asaro was inducted into the crime family in the 1970s he sought permission to kill Zuccaro. The reason? Zuccaro had shot a junk yard dog who had attacked him at an autobody shop owned by Valenti and another Asaro cousin.

Shortly after Zuccaro killed the dog, Asaro went to Zuccaro’s home and “chastised (him) for killing the dog and threatened to kill (Zuccaro,)” the prosecutors wrote.

Accompanying Asaro on the visit were two cohorts Burke would later kill, Tommy DeSimone and Stacks  Edwards (as memorably and accurately portrayed in Goodfellas, the movie classic about the Lufthansa Heist).

The dog slaying merited a mob sitdown: Asaro accused Zuccaro of murdering his mutt. Zuccaro denied it.

Whatever happened, Massino decided that it wasn’t worth a human life and ruled in favor of Zuccaro, the prosecutors wrote.

In addition to Asaro, prosecutors identify nine others who took part in the planning and the actual heist on December 11, 1978. They are Burke, his son Frank, Valenti, DeSimone, Joseph (Joe Buddha) Manri, Angelo Sepe, Anthony (Snake) Rodriguez, Danny Rizzo, and Louis (Fat Louie) Carfora.

Ruggiano will testify, prosecutors wrote, that his father, Anthony (Fat Andy) Ruggiano, a “powerful soldier in the Gambino family at the time,” helped Asaro and Burke “fence, or launder, jewelry stolen in the Heist through a jewelry business in Queens” and that he “consequently shared in the proceeds of the Heist.”

Ruggiano will also testify, the prosecutors wrote, that “following the Heist, he saw the defendant regularly at a local racetrack betting (and losing) larger amounts than usual and extending extortionate loans” as he “traded one addiction for another by transitioning to gambling.”

There’s one other crime attributed to Asaro that suggests the feds are a little over-eager in their zeal to reveal this life of crime. Prosecutors state that Valenti and former Bonanno associate Vincent Rossetti will testify that, in 2006, Asaro tried to extort money from a maintenance worker employed at a building run by a woman whom prosecutors describe as Asaro’s  “illegitimate daughter.”

Considering everything else the prosecutors accuse Asaro of doing in his life of crime, that pejorative phrase kind of jumps out. In fact, Gang Land cannot recall seeing it in print since around the time that Asaro kicked his heroin habit.

Neither the woman’s alleged role in the extortion, nor her exact lineage is laid out in the court filing. But apparently, when you’re looking to throw everything you can find at a presumed bad guy, there’s no limit on the dirt to be dished.

 


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