BROOKLYN (CN) – Reputed mobster Vincent Asaro is most famous for being accused of a role in one of the biggest robberies in U.S. history, but what landed him an eight-year prison sentence Thursday was an explosive case of road rage.
“I don’t care what happens to me at this point,” 82-year-old Asaro, said to be a former mob boss, burst out after the sentencing, when U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross asked if he had any requests for the location of the prison.
“What you sentenced me to, your honor, is a death sentence anyway.”
Prosecutors said Asaro, an alleged member of the Bonanno crime family, ordered a 2012 hit on a car that had switched lanes in front of him at a traffic light in Howard Beach, Queens. They claimed co-defendants Matthew Rullan and John J. Gotti used a law enforcement database to track down the driver’s home address, then set fire to the car.
According to a detention letter filed by the prosecution in March, Asaro wanted to make sure “the score had been settled,” so the next day he “drove to the auto body repair shop where the vehicle had been towed to see the vehicle’s charred remains.”
Asaro apologized for the episode in court Thursday.
“It was a stupid thing I did,” he said. “It just got out of hand.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Argentieri asked Judge Ross to take into consideration the other crimes of which Asaro has been accused, including helping plan the December 1978 Lufthansa heist in a cargo hold at JFK airport, later fictionalized in the movie “Goodfellas.”
At the time it was the largest cash robbery in U.S. history, with a take of $5 million in cash and another $1 million in jewelry, according to his 2014 indictment. Masked men pistol-whipped an employee, held others at gunpoint and forced a guard to open a vault containing the valuables.
Asaro was arrested in 2014 and charged with several counts of conspiracy, including for the Lufthansa theft. Ross cited that trial, over which she also presided, several times Thursday.
In November 2015, Asaro was acquitted on all counts. The New York Times called the jury verdict “a stunning blow” to the Eastern New York U.S. Attorney’s Office.
But at Thursday’s sentencing, Ross said the government had proved “with a preponderance of evidence” that Asaro was connected to the Lufthansa incident and to the murder of Paul Katz, who was allegedly suspected to be a rat.
Asaro’s lawyer, Elizabeth Macedonio, urged Ross not to sentence her client with the bias of those charges for which he had been acquitted.
“Whatever his life was in the past,” she said, “it was over” after the 2015 acquittal.
Macedonio emphasized Asaro’s ill health, particularly in prison — he suffers from Hepatitis C, hypertension and cardiac problems.
But Ross said she gave “particular weight” to those two 2014 charges because she had seen “overwhelming evidence that Mr. Asaro has lived a life of violence.”
“I have no illusions that Mr. Asaro will be rehabilitated by a prison stay,” she said, adding that he “poses a significant and ongoing threat to the general public.”
Prosecutors had argued Asaro’s age and ill health did not matter because he could simply order others to do his bidding.
“It’s time to send a message,” Argentieri said. “It’s time to break the circle.”
When Ross announced the eight-year sentence on the arson charge, Asaro froze for a moment, then reached for his manila folder, grabbed it, and tucked it under his arm as if to storm out of the courtroom.
A few moments later – perhaps realizing the two U.S. marshals guarding the door would allow no such escape – he set it back on the table. He wore dark-rimmed glasses and a drab olive prison jumpsuit with a white long-sleeved shirt underneath. Several young women cried in the front row of the gallery.
In addition to the prison sentence, Ross also ordered Asaro to pay $21,276 in restitution.
“Mr. Asaro intends to pursue his appeal,” Macedonio told reporters outside the courtroom. She called the sentence “excessively high.”
Asaro had pleaded not guilty on all counts in March before switching the plea to guilty in June for the first count of arson conspiracy. He will get credit for time served before both the Lufthansa trial and after the arson.