Several organized crime figures have been arrested as part of a federal investigation into a series of unsolved crimes, including the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport, according to a racketeering indictment unsealed Thursday morning.

The indictment reads like a greatest hits collection of the Mafia: armored truck heists, murder, attempted murder, extortion and bookmaking. But the crime that garnered the most attention was the Lufthansa robbery, where a group of robbers stole about $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewels from a Lufthansa cargo building in December 1978 — the largest cash robbery in the nation’s history at the time.
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document Document: Indictment Against Members of the Bonanno FamilyJAN. 23, 2014

The robbery, a key plotline in the movie “Goodfellas,” was also infamous for how it frustrated investigators; the only person ever convicted in the heist was a Lufthansa cargo agent, described as the “inside man” in the plot. Other suspects were found slain, or disappeared; the man thought to be the mastermind of the robbery, James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, died in 1996 in prison, where he was serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder.

Some of the alleged crimes in the indictment predated even the airport heist, including a homicide committed in 1969. The federal investigation first became public in June, when F.B.I. agents descended on a home in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens owned by Mr. Burke’s daughter, and began digging in the basement, soon finding human remains, a person familiar with the investigation said.

One of the men who has been arrested, Vincent Asaro, 78, was accused of participating in the airport robbery, according to the indictment. It is not immediately clear what investigators believe to have been his role.

The other men under arrest are not accused of that particular crime.

Mr. Asaro was also charged in connection with the murder of Paul Katz in December 1979; in addition, Mr. Asaro and his son, Joseph Asaro, were charged with hindering an investigation into Mr. Katz’s death.

The defendants, who investigators believe to be linked to the Bonanno crime family, were expected to be arraigned in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

The investigation into the Lufthansa heist seemed to be gaining steam by mid-1980: Henry Hill, an associate in the Lucchese organized crime family, admitted his involvement in the robbery and was quickly swept up into the witness protection program when he agreed to cooperate.

But other suspects kept turning up dead and convictions were elusive. By the time Mr. Hill began cooperating, the corpses of at least six people connected to the robbery or to its participants had been discovered.

The only person convicted of the Lufthansa robbery was the Lufthansa cargo agent, Louis Werner, who had gambling debts to pay off. Mr. Werner took the idea for the crime to his bookmaker, who introduced him to another bookmaker, a beautician from Long Island, who is believed to have passed along the tip to the robbers, prosecutors said.

Investigators came to suspect that the heist was masterminded by Mr. Burke, who was a close associate of top members of the Lucchese crime family. Mr. Burke was sent to prison on information provided by Mr. Hill, but the crime was not related to the Lufthansa heist: it involved fixing Boston College basketball games. While in prison, Mr. Burke was tried and convicted in the slaying of a drug dealer, Richard Eaton.

Only a fraction of the money stolen at Kennedy Airport was ever recovered.