The government's star witness at the Lufthansa heist trial of Vincent Asaro said the thieves expected only $2 million and described the "euphoria" of the mob crew when they saw a haul of more than $6 million, in dramatic first-ever testimony Tuesday by a participant in the 1978 robbery.
Gaspare Valenti, 68, Asaro's cousin, said the gang descended on the JFK Lufthansa terminal at night, dressed in black, with gloves, ski masks, guns and bolt cutters. They subdued the guards and pulled a van into a loading bay. Tommy DeSimone -- the gangster nicknamed "Tommy Two-Guns" and played by Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" -- entered the vault first, followed by Valenti, who watched as DeSimone tossed a cardboard box on the floor and stomped on it.
"The yellow Styrofoam popcorn popped out," Valenti testified in Brooklyn federal court. "Tommy put his hand in and took out two packets of money. They had $125,000 in $100 bills. He said 'This is it! This is it.' "
Valenti said as they looked around they saw 50 similar boxes, "burlap sacks filled with gold chains," crates with watches and a metal cabinet with drawers. "The drawers were filled with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other stones," he said.
Valenti testified they made a human chain to move the loot to their van while the men who planned the crime -- Asaro and Jimmy Burke -- waited in a car.
But after pulling what was the largest currency theft in U.S. history, Valenti said the crew rendezvoused with the masterminds at 3 a.m. on Dec. 11, 1978, and realized there was no plan on where to stash the loot.
"Vinnie yelled out, 'Bring it to my cousin's house,' " Valenti testified. "And that's where we went -- to my house."
He said after the crew put the money in his Brooklyn basement while his wife, children, mother and sister slept upstairs, and inventoried the cash, gold, jewels and diamond-encrusted Cartier watches, his initial excitement quickly turned to fear.
"We got to be very careful now," Asaro warned him. "They'll look to kill us, to rob us. Anybody. Anybody who knew about the score."
"From a happy person, I became a very sad person, because my family was in the house," Valenti recalled. "Someone could come back, take everything that was there, and hurt my family."
Asaro, 80, of Howard Beach, charged with racketeering, was never identified as a key player in the heist in the book by mob turncoat Henry Hill or in the cinema version. But Valenti said he and Burke were partners, and Asaro got and spent a full $750,000 share. "He gambled it," Valenti said. "He bought a house in Moriches. A car -- a Lincoln, a Bill Blass model. A boat."
In seven hours of testimony, Valenti, a onetime resident of Baldwin, tied Asaro to murder, body disposals, violent beatdowns, hijackings, loan-sharking and mob disputes over shot dogs, cheating women and porn stars.
He punctuated his testimony with humor, noting that when told to "come dressed" for his first mob job, he didn't know it meant to bring a gun. Instead he wore a seersucker suit with a burgundy shirt and pants.
He testified that in the 1980s, Asaro sent him to hijack a truck of high-end furs in Manhasset. He said he was crestfallen when he opened it. "The truck was loaded with stuff from Filene's Basement," he said. The only thing of value: boxes of Isotoner gloves. "Vinnie took those," he said.
Valenti's testimony resumes Wednesday.