The Crazy True Story of the ‘Goodfellas’ Lufthansa Heist

On this episode of ‘Dirty Money,’ we fact-check ‘Goodfellas’ and crack the case of the largest heist in airline history.

On December 11, 1978, six armed robbers broke into JFK Airport’s Lufthansa Airlines cargo terminal at 3 o’clock in the morning. A little over an hour later, they walked out with $5 million in untraceable bills (worth $22.4 million today ) and $800,000 in jewels (worth $3.6 million today.) At the time, it was the largest heist in U.S. history.

And here’s the really crazy part: Not a shot was fired and nobody was killed or seriously hurt (during the heist, at least.)

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was dramatized in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfellas, based on Nicholas Pilleggi’s 1985 book Wiseguys about mid-level crooks in the Lucchese crime family. The heist was a pivotal moment in the lives of this Queens, NY-based crew. Mobsters Henry Hill, Jimmy Burke and a bizarre group of degenerate gamblers, bookies, wig salesmen and guys with nicknames like Louis Roast Beef all somehow pull off this incredible scheme…and then almost immediately start killing each other.

On this episode of Dirty Money, hosts Dan Bova and Jon Small discuss the crime and its fallout, and what the Goodfellas version got right and what it got wrong. (And by wrong, we mean “slightly unfactual” because it is the greatest movie ever made and by extension, can do no wrong.)

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