The Lufthansa Mafia Heist Trial

U.S. v. Werner, 620 F.2d 922 (2d Cir. 1980)

Louis Werner liked to gamble. Unfortunately, he was very bad at it, and he owed Mafia bookies $18,000. Werner worked for Lufthansa Airlines, which transported a monthly shipment of American currency and stored it in a vault at Kennedy Airport. Werner tipped the mob to this fact, hoping to offset his debts, but the operation swelled far beyond what he expected: an undetermined number of Mafia families either participated in or sanctioned the robbery. Lucchese crime family associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke was the point man.

The Lufthansa heist took place on December 11, 1978. It was carried off so cleanly that the perpetrators almost evaded detection, but then Parnell Steven “Stacks” Edwards failed to drive the stolen getaway van to a Jersey junkyard for demolition per instructions. He drove it to his girlfriend’s home instead, and left it in a no-parking zone.

After the heist, it is believed that Burke did what any self-respecting Mafioso would do: he allegedly began brutally killing his accomplices. Ten people—some who helped steal the money, some who helped launder it, and some who were in the wrong place at the wrong time— were found buried or burned or weren’t found at all.

All things considered, Louis Werner got off easy. Convicted of six charges, he cooperated with prosecutors and got his sentence reduced from fifteen to five years. Then he married his girlfriend, and the two of them disappeared into the Witness Protection Program.    

The $5.8 million was never recovered.