By Michael V. Cusenza
If at first you don’t succeed, indict again.
Sixteen months after reputed long-time Bonanno Crime Family captain Vincent Asaro was found not guilty on all counts – including the Hobbs Act robbery conspiracy charge for his alleged role in the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport – in a Brooklyn courtroom, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York last week moved to indict the 82-year-old Howard Beach resident again.
Two indictments were unsealed last Wednesday morning in Brooklyn federal court charging Asaro and six other defendants variously with arson, bank robbery, Hobbs Act robberies and firearms offenses based, in part, on their participation in the criminal affairs of the Bonannos.
Among Asaro’s co-defendants is fellow Howard Beach resident John J. Gotti, the grandson and namesake of the original Dapper Don. Gotti, 23, was sentenced earlier this month to eight years in prison after admitting to selling massive amounts of prescription painkillers in Howard Beach and Ozone Park.
“This case blindsided us, we didn’t even know this case was happening whatsoever,” Gotti’s attorney, Gerard Marrone, told NBC New York. “He was actually told that he was being moved to another upstate facility, and the FBI met him and put him in federal custody.”
According to the indictment involving Asaro and Gotti, in early April 2012, Asaro was traveling in a car in Howard Beach when he became enraged at another motorist who had cut him off at a traffic light. Asaro allegedly chased the other vehicle at a high rate of speed. Later, after obtaining the home address of the owner of the other vehicle, Asaro allegedly directed an associate of the Bonanno family to set fire to that vehicle. That associate then allegedly recruited Gotti and co-defendant Matthew “Fat Matt” Rullan to help him carry out the arson.
As further alleged in the indictment, Gotti and Rullan drove in Gotti’s Jaguar sedan to a service station in the pre-dawn hours of April 4, 2012, where they filled a container with gasoline and proceeded to the residence of the owner of the other vehicle. The Bonanno associate doused the vehicle with gasoline, and Rullan ignited it. A City Police Department officer in an unmarked car observed the crime in progress and pursued the Jaguar on a high-speed chase through the streets of Queens until he terminated the pursuit for safety reasons due to Gotti’s alleged reckless driving.
The following day, the Bonanno associate told Asaro about the arson, and Asaro drove to the auto body shop where the burned vehicle had been towed to confirm that his order had been carried out.
Two weeks after the arson, as alleged in the second indictment to which Asaro is not a part, Gotti and two others robbed the Maspeth Federal Savings and Loan Association on 69th Street in Maspeth.
“The defendants are charged with committing an assortment of violent crimes – arson to exact punishment for a perceived slight and robberies to unjustly enrich themselves. This Office and its partners will continue to vigilantly pursue such organized violence and stop it in its tracks,” said Acting EDNY U.S. Attorney Brudget Rohde, who also noted that all of the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on the robbery, attempted robbery, arson and arson conspiracy charges.