Heist's Brutal Reality for Lufthansa Staffers

Lufthansa terminal focus of Vincent Asaro's trial for Lufthansa heist.
Model of Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK in 1978, exhibited in court. 
A former Lufthansa Airlines worker described what happened on that night in 1978, when masked gunmen infiltrated the Lufthansa cargo area at JFK, committing what was then called the largest robbery in American history. 

The witness took the stand today in Bonanno member Vincent Asaro's trial in Brooklyn Federal Court. The charges Asaro faces include co-masterminding the infamous $6 million Lufthansa heist with James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke. Asaro also is charged with the murder of Paul Katz, a suspected mob snitch strangled with a dog leash. 

Early in the a.m. in 1978, Rolf Rebmann was among the staffers grinding out the hours at the Kennedy Airport terminal targeted by mobsters using inside information, including blueprints.

Suddenly, “I heard a noise, someone hollering at the back. I went over to investigate. I opened the other door and there was a van parked there and a guy standing next to the van.” 

“I asked if I could help him. He said ‘No’ and stuck a gun in my face and told me to get into the van face-down.” 

Others were already inside the van, including Kerry Whalen, actually the first employee to meet the gun-wielding robbers Gaspare Valenti and Frank James Burke. 

The mobbed-up bandits had herded Rebmann along with other Lufthansa employees inside a cargo van, then issued a curt warning: Talk about this, you will die... 

Wallets and car keys were handed to the gangsters, who hefted large-sized weapons and wore masks. 

“We have your wallets. So we know where you live," said one of them, underlining the threat to murder anyone who dared talk to law enforcement. (An echo of the famous Goodfellas line: “You might know who we are, but we know who you are.”) 

In the commotion of the heist, the robbers couldn't account for Rolf, whose name was on the list of staffers' names. 

“We got everybody but we can’t find this guy Rolf!” one of the mobsters shouted. 

Cosa Nostra News commentator SP-IRISH shared this with us,
Henry Hill presumably at JFK....six months prior to his death. 

Soon enough, Rebmann was identified, hustled back out into the cold and ordered to open the bay doors to the cargo area's interior. 

“They were looking for the key to open the overhead (garage) door,” Rebmann told prosecutor Alicyn Cooley. “They asked for the keys and I gave them the keys.”

Then, after opening the door and backing the van into the warehouse, they marched the captives to the lunchroom.

“I saw three others, only from approximately the waist down, carrying guns,” Rebmann said. “The fellow was leading me around the warehouse with a gun in my back. They put me in the lunchroom and made me lay down on the floor. In the lunchroom all the guys that was working were tied up on the floor.”

While Tommy DeSimone and Valenti were staring at the cash-filled cardboard boxes, the guys with guns inside the lunchroom repeatedly reminded the employees to stay calm -- or else. 

“Do as you’re told,” Rebmann recalled hearing. “We don’t want to hurt anybody.” 

They may not have wanted to, but they did hurt somebody who didn't listen to them. 

At one point, Lufthansa employee Kerry Whalen tried to sound an alarm. 

“One of them stepped over me and hit Kerry," Rolf said in testimony at Asaro's trial.

Whalen, in a self-published book called “Inside the Lufthansa Heist:The FBI Lied,” described how he felt after Valenti pistol-whipped him.

The New York Daily News excerpted from the book how Whalen wet his pants:

“I couldn’t see with my left eye, but my right eye saw two bullets staring at me, the size of submarine torpedoes, in the chamber of a pistol,” he wrote. 
“I was so sure I would die that my body went completely limp causing me to urinate into my long johns.”

Valenti actually was the one who cracked Whalen's head with the butt of his gun. 

The heist team eventually created a human chain. They passed the haul -- every box of it, one after the other -- down and inside the van. 

Then the van sped off, hauling inside it the contents of what was then the largest robbery in American history. 

The Lufthansa staffers, frightened out of their wits, didn't dare to even stir until “somebody said there is nobody there,” Rebmann recalled. “And that’s when we all got up.” 

After Rebmann, a crew of former FBI agents took the stand to testify about various aspects of the the surveillance they slapped on Burke following the heist. 

They never slapped anything else onto Burke, heist-related, anyway. 

Jimmy the Gent was finally arrested on other charges, including murder, and died in prison in 1996. 

Rebmann took the stand after Valenti, who spent four days testifying about the heist and large volume of tape recordings he made via the wire he wore on his cousin, the 80-year-old frail-looking Vinny Asaro.

Valenti gave up Asaro because he of overwhelming financial issues primarily stemming from gambling. He also supposedly was tired of Cosa Nostra life. So in 2008, he visited the FBI, and was asked to wear a wire on Asaro.

On June 12, 2012, while Valenti was recording Asaro, Henry Hill, who flipped and told writer Nicholas Pileggi his story, died of natural causes.

That same month, Valenti brought Lufthansa up by asking Asaro if he planned on attending Hill's wake.


"That’s one less left of Lufthansa,” Valenti said.

“Yeah,” Asaro responded. “Piece of shit.”

"He made a big thing like he was there with us," said Valenti.

“Fuck him,” Asaro told his wire-wearing turncoat cousin.

Hill was not on the actual job that night, but had played a role by introducing the robbers to bookie Marty Krugman, a Queens wig-store owner who tipped them off about the Lufthansa loot.

Why any mobster would attend Hill's wake is another question.