A straightforward update to the notorious 1978 Lufthansa Airlines heist.
Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter DeStefano (Gangland New York: The Places and Faces of Mob History, 2015, etc.) understands the difficulty of opening new aspects of a crime immortalized in journalism, memoirs, and the film Goodfellas: “Of all the Mafia heists, rip-offs, scores, and plunders, none has been more iconic a part of American popular culture than the brazen [Lufthansa] robbery.” The author focuses on the 2015 trial of Vincent Asaro, an aged survivor of the era’s Five Families crews. Asaro, whose alleged participation in the crime had not been recognized, was wiretapped over several years for the FBI by his cousin Gaspare Valenti, another low-level mobster. The tapes revealed both men scuffling for years as their influence faded within the mob, itself more constricted in today’s New York City, as well as the chilling moment when Asaro realized Valenti’s betrayal. DeStefano leads up to Asaro’s trial with a narrative re-creation of the crime, its murderous aftermath, and the notorious figures involved, including Lucchese family underboss Paul Vario, robbery mastermind Jimmy Burke, and turncoat Henry Hill, the protagonist of Goodfellas. The author tries to counter the ambiguity surrounding the crime, noting, “while Hill’s public statements on the heist excluded Asaro...he had actually claimed to law enforcement as far back as 1983 that Asaro was involved.” Following the heist and the murders of many participants, Asaro ran stolen car operations for a Bonanno family crew, finding himself marginalized over time: “Part of the problem was Asaro’s volatility and temper.” Despite Valenti’s testimony, Asaro was acquitted at trial, a startling development. Though Asaro’s connection to Lufthansa still seems inconclusive, DeStefano paints him as a poignant if unlikable character, a criminal journeyman who survived a violent life to watch his status, wealth, and cherished lifestyle slip away.
The book will please Mafia completists, but the overall arc will feel more familiar than revelatory to most true-crime readers.