Oldfellas; Broke and bitter, a mobster has broken the mafia's code of silence and ratted on cousin over airport robbery 37 years ago; EXCLUSIVE.
EARLY in the movie Goodfellas toughtalking mobster Jimmy "The Gent" Conway instructs a young wannabe on the mafia's two golden rules.
Eyeballing him with a steely glare Jimmy, played by Robert De Niro, warns the novice: "Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut."
For more than 40 years New York wiseguy Gaspare "Gary" Valenti, a trusted side-kick of the real-life Jimmy, kept that omerta - the mafia's solemn code of silence and foiled the FBI.
He and his cousin Vincent "Vinny" Asaro were allegedly in a 12-man team who pulled off the biggest heist ever on US soil.
It's claimed they robbed a Lufthansa cargo plane at New York's JFK airport, netting PS4million in cash and gems - a haul worth more than PS14million today.
That 1978 robbery inspired Martin Scorsese's movie Goodfellas 12 years later and made mastermind Jimmy (real surname Burke) an underworld legend.
But Valenti, now 68, says he and Vinny never got their cut, and moaned "That f***ing Jimmy. He kept everything."
As the years went by the ageing gangsters gambled away the rest of their ill-gotten gains - until mounting bills, hunger and a warped sense of injustice started chipping away at the wall of silence.
In 2008 Valenti turned state witness, striking a deal with the Feds to sell out Asaro, a member of the Bonanno organised crime family, by wire-tapping hundreds of hours of chats about their past.
And this week the two broke and embittered "Oldfellas" were slugging it out in a Brooklyn courtroom where Asaro, 80, is accused of crimes including murder, violence, arson and extortion spanning 45 years, as well as helping Jimmy Burke plan the Lufthansa heist.
If found guilty he faces 20 years in jail and will almost certainly die behind bars.
The sensational trial has evoked memories of the bloody, bygone days when five Italian mafia families - Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno, Gambino and Colombo - controlled the streets of New York.
When Asaro was charged with four other alleged "family" members last year, FBI assistant director George Venizelos said: "These 'goodfellas' thought they had a licence to steal, a licence to kill, and a licence to do whatever they wanted."
That allegedly included illegal gambling, loan sharking, racketeering and revenge murders.
And through the two doddery dons' taped conversations the jury has had a crash course in mafia-speak, just like De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci did before filming Goodfellas.
They heard Valenti, in a thick East Brooklyn drawl, describing rules of respect, and the mafia hierarchy of underbosses, consiglieres, capos, skippers, made men and soldiers.
He was asked by the prosecution what "wiseguys" were and replied: "Goodfellas, made members."
And "friends?" "That's the way wiseguys introduce themselves to other made members - they say 'He's a friend of mine.'" But the jury also heard how friends could turn on each other.
Before his death in 2012, Henry Hill, the lead character in the Goodfellas movie, played by Ray Liotta, told a newspaper his crew were "homicidal maniacs."
"Just about every guy was a cold-blooded murderer," he said.
"It was tough for me. I showed up with them when I had to but I was walking between raindrops. Every day I was scared." The Lufthansa robbery in the early hours obip of December 11, 1978, became a symbol of impenetrable mob power.
Such was the strength of the omerta that only one person was ever convicted - airport insider Louis Werner, who tipped off the gang.
But as part of his witness deal Valenti admitted cutting a lock and restraining two guards during the heist.
He claims that Asaro was outside the airport terminal waiting to crash his car into police vehicles if the alarm was raised.
The masked gang discovered the plane was packed with $5million in cash and $1m in gems - far more than they'd expected.
Six gunman took 64 minutes to load the haul into a van and escape. Valenti told the
jury: "It was euphoria. We thought there would be two million in cash.
"I was separating gold chain and watches and diamonds and emeralds and rubies." But the court heard the loot was not fairly shared out.
Burke, who died from cancer in 1996, while in jail for murder, promised each of his men $750,000 from the raid, but many died in mysterious circumstances before they could get it. And, as is portrayed in Goodfellas, Jimmy Burke was furious when some of the gang began splashing cash on women and fast cars, as it could attract attention from the FBI.
A saro is also accused of helping Burke strangle a suspected mob snitch - Paul Katz - with a dog chain in 1969.
His body was buried in the basement of a vacant house in the New York borough of Queens but later moved to another property linked to Burke where the remains were discovered in 2013.
Prosecutors did not reveal why Valenti decided to betray his cousin but the defence called him a "con artist" and a liar who was paid for giving evidence.
Valenti admitted: "I needed help financially to support my family. I was just tired of that life. I was having nightmares about the things I experienced." And the hours of wire-tapped conversations suggest both Oldfellas were angry at being ripped off by Burke and ri bitter at being broke and no longer feared.
"We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get," griped Asaro in 2011. "That f***ing Jimmy. He kept everything."
Asaro moaned about being "the only wiseguy left in the neighbourhood", having to live off food stamps and fantasising about "shaking down" a local"drug dealer for $2,000. "C***suckers never did s**t. Never did s**t what I done in my life. They never stole a f***ing napkin," Asaro ranted.
For five years Valenti recorded their chats, in a deli called Tuscany, a bagel joint, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and a diner close to the JFK heist scene.
Sometimes they would drive together through Queens with tunes by Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, Adele and Rihanna playing on the radio, desperately trying to think up ways to make money while reminiscing about the good old days.
Asara recalled $1,000-a-hand poker games at late mob boss John Gotti's social club, and his respect for Jimmy Burke.
He spoke fondly of the days a mobster would strut into the Copacabana club to sit at a table hastily set up just for him.
"You don't have to dress like a movie star - I'm talking about when you go out to a club, you look nice.
"When you don't look good, guys think you're a f***ing brokester," he said.
As the taped evidence played and during his cousin's testimony, Asaro sat in the dock mouthing the word "liar". Out of sight beneath his shirt was his tattoo of the mafia mantra: "Death before dishonour."
Valenti, in a smart new cream suit, kept glancing across at the public gallery to his son Anthony - aka Fat Sammy and a reputed Bonanno soldier.
But he wasn't there to support his dad. "I'm here for Vinny," he told reporters. He can't forgive his dad for breaking the omerta.
Because Goodfellas don't do that. The trial continues.
I was tired of that life..I was having nightmares about those things GASPARE 'GARY' VALENTI IN COURT
SPLASH Local report of raid
THE FILLiotta, De Niro, Sorvino aLM and Pesci In Goodfellas
$6m heist Employee with FBI agents at JFK airport after the robbery
HEYDAY The two cousins relax at
W Gaspare Valent witness ti, left, with Asaro in 1970s
accused Alleged Bonanno family mobster Vinny Asaro is taken for trial
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Oct 29, 2015|
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