Prosecutor urges jury to convict Vincent Asaro, 'the ultimate tough guy'

Vincent Asaro, 80, lived by the Mafia code of "death before dishonor," a prosecutor said.

Story highlights

  • Vincent Asaro is accused of a string of crimes over 40 years, including the Lufthansa robbery
  • A federal prosecutor says he "lived by and enforced the Mafia's code -- death before dishonor"

New York (CNN)Vincent Asaro, accused of once being a high-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family in New York, was "the ultimate tough guy," a federal prosecutor said Friday.

He killed people suspected of being informers, profited from the rackets and participated in the famed 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK International Airport that inspired part of the 1990 gangster movie "Goodfellas," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley said Friday.
The 80-year-old "lived by and enforced the Mafia's code -- death before dishonor," Cooley said in closing arguments.

    'The code of silence'

    When the trial started, prosecutors stressed that Asaro lived by omerta, organized crime's "code of silence."
    But two prosecution witnesses broke the code: Sal Vitale, a Bonanno underboss who has pleaded guilty to participating in 11 mob-related murders, and Gaspare Valenti, a cousin of Asaro and a Bonanno associate who wore a wire to record hours of conversations with Asaro.
    Both men signed cooperation agreements with the government.
    Cooley spent six hours reading portions of transcripts of some of the 70 witnesses and replayed audio clips of the Asaro-Valenti conversations, many which dwelt on the plight of aging gangsters struggling to make a buck and remain relevant.
    In one conversation, Asaro bragged about winning $200 in a recent poker game, then recalled winning $37,000 at cards years earlier.
    Cooley said Asaro's "upside-down values and his disturbing choices" were on full display during his "45 crime-filled years."
    One of Asaro's racketeering counts pertains to the death of Paul Katz, whom Asaro suspected of being an informant.
    "Even though it's been delayed for too long, justice can still be reached," Cooley said.

    'What is this, Watergate?'

    Another racketeering count pertains to the Lufthansa Heist, a plot point in the movie "Goodfellas." Cooley said the defendant's own words during wiretapped conversations "prove he planned, carried out and profited handsomely from the Lufthansa Heist."
    Many of the racketeering counts include extortion, and Cooley said Asaro "terrorized people into paying him."
    Asaro's showed frustration with the trial's process during a short afternoon break before Cooley wrapped up her closing arguments.
    "It's absolutely ridiculous!" Asaro said. "A five-hour summation? What is this, Watergate?"
    Asaro's lawyers will deliver their closing arguments on Monday.