Vincent Asaro, the 85-year-old ailing reputed Bonanno crime family captain who was acquitted in 2015 on charges he was involved in the fabled 1978 Lufthansa Heist, was granted a compassionate release from prison Friday by a federal judge, citing in part concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
Under the release order signed by Brooklyn federal judge Allyne Ross, Asaro will be let out of the federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Missouri, to spend the remaining 23 months of an arson sentence under house arrest at the home of a friend in Queens.
Asaro and the legal world were stunned in November 2015 when after a lengthy trial and the testimony of his cousin, he was acquitted of federal charges that he was involved in the planning and execution of the December 11, 1978, Lufthansa robbery. The heist garnered a Mafia-connected crew nearly $6 million in cash and jewels from Kennedy Airport.
The crime became a staple part of crime lore and figured into the plot of the Martin Scorsese classic mob film Goodfellas. The film is based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy.
After his Lufthansa acquittal, Asaro pleaded guilty in 2017 to ordering others to burn the car of a driver who had cut him off in traffic in Howard Beach. The road rage incident netted Asaro, then 82, a 96-month prison term from Ross.
In sentencing Asaro on the arson case, Ross said she believed that despite the acquittal in Lufthansa that she gave “particular weight” to evidence during the heist trial that he took part in the murder of hijacker Paul Katz and was indeed involved in the airport robbery.
But after Asaro suffered a stroke in federal prison and was having trouble speaking and caring for himself, and with the specter of the coronavirus creating a great risk that he would get ill, Ross said she found “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to let him spend the rest of his sentence at home.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office said officials there were studying Ross’ ruling and weighing their legal options.
Asaro was being released under the custody of friend Michelle Carollo and a relative Noreen Asaro and for the 23 months left on his sentence would be supervised by federal probation officials, Ross said. Although Ross didn’t specify where Asaro would be staying, it apparently would be in a home he had been living at in Ozone Park after he was acquitted in the Lufthansa case.