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Goodfellas True Story: What Really Happened With The Lufthansa Heist

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The Lufthansa heist played a big role in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, but how did it happen in real-life and who was involved in it? Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster films, usually centered on the Italian-American identity and touching on themes like guilt and redemption, and while he has done many great gangster films, Goodfellas is considered by many to be his best.

Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas was released in 1990 and was very well received by critics and audiences. The film chronicles the life of mafia mobster turned FBI informant Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his days as a teenager fascinated by (and working for) the criminal life and mafia presence in his Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, to his full involvement with the family of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). They all got involved in different crimes through the years, but their biggest one was the infamous Lufthansa Heist, which had big consequences not only in terms of the value of everything stolen but also within the mafia, with many of the mobsters involved ended up dead.

In Goodfellas, the mastermind behind the heist was Jimmy Conway, with Tommy involved in some capacity and Henry completely out of it, while other characters (many of those introduced in the famous restaurant scene) were an active part of it. In real life, Jimmy Burke (the real Jimmy Conway) is also considered the mastermind behind the heist, but he was never officially charged in connection with it, as there wasn’t enough evidence to do so, even if Henry Hill later told the FBI about it. Very much like in the film, Conway and company had the help of an insider, who let Henry know about the currency flying in to the Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. After that, Burke built his team, formed by Tommy DeSimone (Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas), Angelo Sepe, Louis Cafora, Joe Manri, Paolo LiCastri, and Robert McMahon as robbers, with Burke’s son serving as a getaway driver and Parnell “Stacks” Edwards in charge of getting rid of the van. The money each was set to receive depended on their role in the robbery.

Goodfellas never showed the actual heist, only focusing on Henry’s reaction when hearing the news about it, so there’s no point of comparison on that. Burke’s plan mostly went as expected, as Edwards failed to get rid of the van, which led the FBI to identify Burke’s crew as suspects. Paul Vario (Cicero in the film) ordered DeSimone to kill Edwards, and that was just the beginning of a series of murders within the crew. Burke then ordered anyone who could implicate him in the heist to be killed, and the only person related to it that was convicted was Louis Werner, the crew’s insider. The money and jewelry were never recovered, and as mentioned above, Burke was never charged.

Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone didn’t suffer the consequences of the Lufthansa Heist, but they did pay for their crimes, one way or another. Tommy DeSimone is believed to have been killed in retaliation for the murders of John Gotti’s men, William “Billy Batts” Bentvena, and Foxy Jerothe, while Jimmy Burke was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1982, getting 20 more years in 1985 for the murder of a drug dealer in 1979. Jimmy Burke died in April 1996 at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Goodfellas did a good job in adapting the planning of the Lufthansa Heist and the events that came after it within the mob, though with a couple of minor changes just to add to the drama.


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