Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lufthansa Heist Revisited

Mob Details

One of the details Burke needed to oversee was receiving approval from the local mob families. Already having the blessing of Vario and the Lucchese group, Burke next had to meet with the Gambinos. He met John Gotti, who was then an acting capo of a crew operating out of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club. In exchange for the Gambino Family's blessing, Burke was to turn over $200,000 or 10% of the estimated $2.0 million booty. An additional clause was that the Burke gang would be supplemented with Gambino Family member Paolo LiCastri, who served as an "enforcer of the mob's interest."

It is interesting to note that while Volkman and Cummings mention the participation of the Gambino Family in sharing the spoils, Pileggi doesn't. Instead, Hill claims that the Bonanno Family was involved. He states, "The Bonannos ran half of the airport in those days, and Jimmy had to show respect to them to maintain the peace." Hill states that Vincent Asaro was the crew chief who oversaw the Bonanno Family's interests at the airport.

Paolo LiCastri was a Sicilian born hood who after arriving in the United States became associated with the Gambino Family. After a murder conviction in 1975, he was deported in early 1978 to Sicily as an illegal alien. During the fall of that year he was smuggled back in. Having an overblown air of importance about himself and his responsibilities, LiCastri quickly got on the wrong side of Burke. In Hill's account of LiCastri, he disclosed that LiCastri was "an illegal Sicilian shooter, who used to say he was in the air-conditioning business because he put holes in people."

Hill reveals that due to his own participation in a college basketball-betting scheme involving Boston College, and several drug deals, that he "lost track" of the "guys in on the deal." In Wiseguy he states:

I heard for instance, that Jimmy was going to send his eighteen-year-old son, Frankie Burke, on the heist under Tommy, but I never asked and nobody ever mentioned it. Later I heard LiCastri wasn't on the job. Frenchy McMahon, another stickup guy...was also hanging around all the time, but I wasn't sure where he was going to fit in. Frenchy was a good guy and he was very tight with Joe Buddha, so wherever you saw Joe Buddha you saw Frenchy. When you've got something like Lufthansa coming up, you don't ask questions and you don't talk about it. You don't want to know. Knowing what's not necessary is only trouble.

Brinks armored truck (AP)
Brinks armored truck (AP)

On Friday, December 8, a shipment of money arrived at the Lufthansa cargo terminal from the Commerzbank of Frankfurt, Germany, to be forwarded to Chase Manhattan Bank. Chase received $2.0 million, but an additional $3.0 million that was supposed to be picked up by a Brinks, Inc. armored car never arrived. Brinks' guards were told by a Lufthansa supervisor that the approval of a cargo executive was needed before the money could be released. One of the guards argued that this was not the procedure. However, the supervisor disappeared for an hour and a half and the Brinks' guards were ordered to continue their rounds without having picked up the money from Lufthansa. The supervisor who thwarted the pickup procedure was Louis Werner.

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