New York wiseguy Vinnie Asaro is currently on trial for helping plan the infamous and highly-lucrative Lufthansa Heist, the largest cash-and-jewelry boost in American history, and the 1969 murder of mob crony Paul Katz, but he also was most likely involved in the conspiracy to murder mafia associate Richard Eaton a decade later, per federal court documents. The headline-grabbing heist and the Eaton slaying were each depicted in the Oscar-nominated gangster-film classic, Goodfellas (1990).
A drug dealer and accomplished con-artist, Eaton was murdered in 1979, weeks following the Lufthansa job, one of a string of grisly slayings that took place in the weeks and months after the record-breaking score for a variety of reasons, ranging from greed and self-protection to straight out vengeance. The Eaton hit fell in the revenge category: he and two other future murder victims had pocketed $250,000 in a bogus drug deal set up with money stolen in the Lufthansa Heist. Eaton was found hanging hogtied in a portable meat locker on January 17, 1979 on a side street in Brooklyn. The coroner had to wait two days for Eaton’s corpse to defrost before being able to conduct the autopsy. Asaro, according to the FBI, was in charge of getting rid of Eaton’s body upon him being killed.
The 80-year old Asaro is accused of strangling Katz to death with a dog chain to keep him quiet and masterminding the six million-dollar December 11, 1978 robbery of the Lufthansa Airlines cargo terminal at the John F. Kennedy Airport, alongside legendary Irish mobster James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, a top lieutenant to Lucchese crime family captain Paul Vario. For years in the mid-to-late Twentieth Century, New York’s Lucchese and Gambino crime families were in charge of criminal activity at the airport in Queens, formerly known as Idlewild and an extremely fertile ground for hijacks, scams and rip-offs in the old days.
Asaro is a reputed capo in the Bonanno crime family and was the syndicate’s point-man at the airport. He is the nephew of deceased mafia porn king Michael (Mickey Z) Zaffarano, a world-class smut peddler who ran Bonanno sex rackets out of his Times Square office at the Pussycat Theatre on Broadway. Prosecutors claim Asaro whacked Katz for his belief that Katz tipped the FBI off to stolen property being stashed at a storage facility he owned. After Asaro’s first-cousin and mob underling Gaspare Valenti flipped and wore a wire on him, Asaro was indicted in the winter of 2014, charged with co-orchestrating the Lufthansa Heist with Jimmy the Gent Burke, murdering Katz with Burke and attempting to carry out the murder of another cousin for testifying in court against the mob, as well as other racketeering offenses.
Burke, portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas, died of cancer behind bars in 1996 on unrelated charges stemming from a college basketball game-fixing scandal and the Eaton homicide. Katz’s remains were recently discovered buried on property owned by Burke’s family.
According to federal informants, Asaro aided Burke with the hit on Eaton, the first in Burke’s death spree launched on the victim and the rest of his grifting team, including Tom Monteleone and Theresa Ferrara, which coincided with him knocking off several of his co-conspiratorsin the epic Lufthansa robbery to cut ties between him and the crime and hoard their shares of the profits for himself. Burke and Asaro “invested” a portion of the cash stolen in the Lufthansa Heist with the sketchy Eaton, who was partnered with Monteleone and Ferrara, in a cocaine transaction which Eaton and co. pilfered $250k from.
“Richie” Eaton ran his operations out of Monteleone’s Player’s Club Lounge in Ft. Lauderdale, a hangout for Burke and his Lucchese crew whenever they were vacationing in the sun down in Florida. Jimmy the Gent was rumored to have been laundering some of his Lufthansa dough through Monteleone’s bar and believed in addition to the coke rip-off that Monteleone, Eaton and Ferrara were skimming cash from his money wash. Ferrara was a girlfriend of Burke’s protégé Thomas (Two-Gun Tommy) DeSimone, played by actor Joe Pesce in Goodfellas in an Academy Award-earning performance. Burke’s girlfriend was Two-Gun Tommy’s sister.
The handsome and hair-trigger tempered DeSimone was one of the seven masked assailants who barged into the Lufthansa cargo port with guns drawn in the early hours of December 11, 1978 and walked away with a cool 6 mil in cash, jewelry, foreign services bonds and Eastern European currency, triple the amount of what they had expected to steal. Asaro’s cousin, turncoat Gaspare Valenti, was also a member of the weapon-wielding brigade of bandits that fleeced the Lufthansa terminal that cold holiday season morning 38 years ago.
During the daring heist, Asaro and Burke sat in a “crash car” down the road. The loot was divided up at Valenti’s house. By his own admission, Asaro gambled most of his share of the loot away at the horse track. Valenti says the reason why he went running to the FBI a few years back was because he was in financial trouble and Asaro, reportedly facing money woes himself, didn’t bail him out.
DeSimone, a relative to mob royalty on the West Coast, was killed in the weeks after the heist for reasons not having to do with his part in the robbery, but rather his angering of Gambino Family administrators for his unsanctioned murders of William (Billy Bats) Bentvena and Ronnie (Foxy) Jerothe earlier in the decade. Bentvena and Jerothe were close friends of the Dapper Don himself, then-capo and future Gambino boss John Gotti (died of cancer in prison in 2002). An FBI surveillance photo from the 1980s of Asaro greeting Gotti and kissing him on the cheek is being offered as evidence in his current RICO case.
Per FBI informants, Asaro helped Burke dispose of Eaton’s body after Burke lured Eaton to a New York City warehouse in January 1979 and tortured, beat and strangled him to death. Asaro delivered the dead body to a cousin of his, who in turn stashed him in the meat locker, according to what informants told authorities, despite being instructed by Asaro to put him in a hole in the ground. An address book with Jimmy the Gent’s address in NYC was discovered in the inside pocket of Eaton’s sports jacket and another Burke, protégé, Henry Hill, testified against him at trial that he bragged of killing Eaton. Asaro was never charged.
Eaton’s grifting partners got similar treatment. Ferrara, thought to be cooperating with authorities, was murdered on February 10, 1979. Monteleone lasted until March, when he was done away with. The pair of murders were part of the close to a dozen follow-up hits in the wake of the Lufthansa job authorities think Jimmy Burke either ordered or carried out himself. Burke’s boss in the mafia, Paul Vario, (portrayed in Goodfellas by actor Paul Sorvino), died in prison, too.
Director Martin Scorsese dramatized the Eaton slaying by combining factual storylines in the timeless and critically-acclaimed Goodfellas. The movie had no character based on Eaton, but incorporated his being found in a meat locker into the script, showing it happen to the Frankie Carbon character instead. Carbon, played by Godfather II alum Frank Sivero, was based on Angelo Sepe, a running buddy of Two-Gun Tommy DeSimone and Lufthansa robber shot to death in his Brooklyn apartment with his girlfriend in July 1984 for swiping a drug shipment intended for a Lucchese family soldier.