Vincent Asaro, a reputed top member of the Bonanno organized crime family, was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI on Thursday and charged with taking part in a robbery of $6 million in cash and jewels in 1978 at JFK International Airport.
The Lufthansa heist — the single biggest haul in U.S. history — was key to the plot of the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas.
Asaro, 78, was also charged with murder for allegedly strangling a suspected informant with a dog chain.
Asaro "devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades," including helping pull off the notorious Lufthansa robbery, said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
"Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro's ruthless ways as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months," Lynch said. "The arrests and charges announced today are a testament to the relentless pursuit of justice by law enforcement."
The FBI rounded up four other alleged mobsters, including Asaro's 55-year-old son, Jerome, on various racketeering, arson and extortion charges. The others are Jack Bonventre, 45; Thomas "Tommy D" DiFiore, 70; and John "Bazoo" Ragano, 52.
"These 'goodfellas' thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill and a license to do whatever they wanted," Lynch said. "However, today's arrests of the five members of the Bonanno crime family brings an end to their violent and ruthless ways."
The arrests stem from a surprise decision by the FBI last June to search the Queens home of the late Mafia associate James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, suspected of being the mastermind of the Lufthansa heist.
Burke, who died 18 years ago while serving time in prison for killing a drug dealer, was the inspiration for Robert De Niro's "Jimmy Conway" in Goodfellas.
Federal authorities suspect Burke killed everyone who could have tied him to the Lufthansa robbery.
The indictment does not detail what evidence the feds found in the home that led them to link Asaro with the JFK airport robbery.
In the daring crime, the robbers, aided by a crooked airport worker, stole $1 million in jewels and $5 million in U.S. currency that Lufthansa shipped each month to West Germany to a money exchange for U.S. military personnel and tourists.
The half-dozen masked gunmen needed little more than an hour to steal the packets of cash being prepared for shipment, toss them into a van and escape.
Contributing: Donna Leinwand Leger