Ex-Bonanno Wiseguy Dominick Cicale Reveals Secret of Missing Loot
The Jan. 23 arrest of Bonanno crime family member Vincent Asaro in connection with the Lufthansa Airlines robbery has sparked renewed interest in the daring heist, which was dramatized in the Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas.”
The unsolved caper, which occurred at New York’s JFK airport, netted $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry. At the time, it was the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history. In today’s dollars, the take would be worth about $21 million.
The jewelry and the money, which consisted of untraceable U.S. currency being returned from Germany, have never been found. Over the past 35 years, investigators and journalists have puzzled over the mystery of the missing Lufthansa loot.
Now, mob insider Dominick Cicale tells TheCrimeBeat.com what happened to a large chunk of the money.
It’s the first-ever interview for Cicale, a former Bonanno capo who turned government informant in 2006. Cicale has declined requests from network news programs in the past, but he and TheCrimeBeat.com share a mutual long-time friend who persuaded Cicale to share his thoughts.
Over the course of several phone calls, Cicale, 46, revealed never-before-heard details of the Lufthansa heist and mob life, in general.
Cicale confirms that alleged heist mastermind Jimmy “the Gent” Burke kept most of the take for himself. Burke murdered most of his accomplices soon after the robbery in order to keep their shares and to ensure that they didn’t betray him. Burke, however, paid significant amounts to the Bonanno, Gambino, and Lucchese families. Since Burke wasn’t a “made” [inducted member] of the Mafia, he had to pay tribute to the mob bosses, who had formed an alliance to run criminal enterprises at JFK, including truck hijackings, cargo theft, bookmaking, and loansharking.
But what happened to Burke’s money? Known as a spendthrift, he lived a modest life in Ozone Park, Queens in New York. Feds had long suspected that Burke was stashing a large amount of Lufthansa cash, between $800,000 and $1 million.
According to Cicale, Burke had $840,000—the last remaining money from the heist—in a safe deposit box at a Queens bank. Cicale says the key to the box, which had been rented by a friend of Burke’s, had been entrusted to Burke’s daughters, Catherine and Robin.
Catherine Burke is married to Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato, an imprisoned Bonanno capo and the son of notorious slain mobster, Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato.
Burke, who died of cancer in 1996, had a close relationship with his daughters, particularly Catherine, who owns a jewelry store in lower Manhattan.
In 2000, says Cicale, Bruno Indelicato and Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano, the former acting boss of the Bonanno family, persuaded Robin Burke to lend them the $840,000 for a supposed business deal they were arranging.
Indelicato and Basciano, while convincing Robin to keep the purported loan a secret from Catherine, promised they would return the money with interest.
Cicale says Basciano promptly lost $500,000 of the money betting sports games and playing blackjack at casinos in Atlantic City and at Foxwoods. “He threw the rest of the money into the production of an animated children’s movie,” Cicale says.
Three years later, Catherine Burke discovered the cash was missing when she happened to check the safe deposit box. “She was furious,” says Cicale. “Cathy was always a nice girl. The whole family was nice. But she was so angry at her husband for taking the money that she nearly ended her marriage to him.”
Basciano, who was nicknamed Vinny Gorgeous because he owned a Bronx beauty salon called Hello Gorgeous and also for his fastidious grooming, was a “degenerate gambler,” says Cicale. “He still owes me $1.1 million that I loaned him for his gambling habit.”
It’s a debt that he’ll never collect. Cicale, who was Basciano’s protege and a top earner in the Bonanno family, was the star witness against Basciano at three trials. His testimony helped convict Basciano of two gangland murders. Vinny Gorgeous is now serving a life sentence at a federal supermax prison in Colorado, where he’s locked down 23 hours a day.
Bonanno Capo Dominick Cicale (on right) with Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano
Cicale, who has declined to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program despite pleas by U.S. attorneys, says Basciano is to blame for his own plight. When Basciano was arrested on racketeering charges in 2005, he was placed in the same New York jail as Bonanno crime family boss Joe Massino, who had been convicted of seven murders.
Massino, who had turned informant and was wearing a wire, cajoled the unsuspecting Basciano into revealing details of the murder of mob associate Randolph Pizzolo. Basciano not only admitted that he orchestrated Pizzolo’s death, but he also told Massino that Cicale was involved in the killing.
Based on that jailhouse discussion, both Cicale and Basciano were charged with Pizzolo’s murder. “I was angry at Vinny for talking about the Pizzolo thing,” Cicale says. “He had always told us to keep our mouths shut after we clipped someone. But then he goes and tells Massino about Randy Pizzolo. He shouldn’t have talked about it—not even to a boss. The boss isn’t even supposed to ask about a murder. If it wasn’t for Vinny’s big mouth, I wouldn’t have got arrested and Vinny wouldn’t have got arrested.”
Cicale says that the recently arrested Vincent Asaro is also likely responsible for his own undoing. At the time of the Lufthansa heist, Asaro oversaw the Bonanno family’s crime interests at JFK. In 2011, Asaro was secretly recorded by an informant as he complained that Jimmy Burke never paid him a share of the Lufthansa take.
“After all these years, Asaro is complaining to someone that he got shortchanged on Lufthansa?” notes Cicale. “He was talking when he shouldn’t have been. That’s why he was put away.”
Asaro, 78, was long considered a liability by his Bonanno colleagues, says Cicale, explaining that Asaro had been “shelved” by the mob years ago. “Basically, he couldn’t come around us anymore. We couldn’t trust him to keep his big mouth shut.”
While acknowledging that there’s no statute of limitations for ongoing criminal enterprises, Cicale questions the arrest of Asaro. “What’s the point of going after a guy who has been shelved?” he asks. “The feds seem to be going after headlines on this one. What are they even going to get Asaro for? A three-year sentence? A five-year sentence, at most?”
Calling the Lufthansa robbery a “nice score,” Cicale says, “It was a nice payday for Jimmy Burke. But not for the guys he killed, of course. Burke had used street guys for the heist. He came to realize that these guys were a risk to cooperate with law enforcement and give up the gang. But, in a way, it was a smart move on his part to use accomplices who weren’t made guys. Burke knew he wouldn’t have been able to get away with killing a made guy. That’s why he didn’t kill Vincent Asaro.”
Cicale was released from prison last year, after serving eight years of a 10-year sentence for various mob-related crimes, including murder. He had originally faced two life terms for a pair of killings he committed with Basciano. But Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis reduced the sentence, citing Cicale’s “extraordinary assistance” in helping the government to dismantle the Bonanno leadership.
When asked where he lives and what he’s doing post-mob, Cicale says he’s in the metropolitan New York City area and keeping a low profile. Seemingly not nervous about mob retribution, he says “I choose not to run. It’s not in my nature. I’m confident that I can handle whatever comes my way.”
Check back to TheCrimeBeat.com for Part 2 of the exclusive Dominick Cicale interview in which he shares his reasons for becoming a government informant. In the final part of the interview, Cicale discusses life after the Mafia.