Brazilian Gang Watches Goodfellas, Robs Lufthansa Flight of $5 Million

In 1978 nearly $6 million was robbed from Lufthansa at New York JFK — in what was then the largest cash robbery ever in the United States.

The movies, The 10 Million Dollar Getaway and The Big Heist were made about the job and it featured prominently in Goodfellas. The latter film is the story of Henry Hill, who is the one that learned about American money flown in monthly from West Germany.

The heist was investigated for over 35 years, even leading to an arrest in 2014 of a purported high-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family, however the then-78 year old man was acquitted. Much of the proceeds of the Lufthansa robbery were said to have been gambled away in casinos.

Now a Brazilian gang has stolen about $5 million from a Lufthansa cargo flight while it was being loaded at São Paulo/Campinas airport last Sunday. The German carrier makes a daily MD11 flight from São Paulo to Dakar and on to Frankfurt.

Five gang members wielding rifles infiltrated an international airport in Brazil on Sunday and carried out a carefully choreographed heist worthy of the big screen.

Police said the gang, using cars that were painted to resemble airport security vehicles, tore past two gates and drove into the cargo section of Viracopos Airport, 60 miles outside Sao Paulo. They attacked two security guards and stuffed them into a van, then invaded the tarmac and drove up to a parked Lufthansa plane just as employees were transferring bags of cash into an armored vehicle.

Lufthansa Cargo MD-11 Freighter in Frankfurt, Copyright: philipus / 123RF Stock Photo

According to leader of the airport worker’s union, “Everyone who passes through the Viracopos Airport is at the mercy of thugs” suggesting that ‘muggings, carjackings and kidnappings of employees in the vicinity of the airport’ is commonplace and that the highway to the airport is known for kidnapping attempts.

A record 10,500 cargo thefts were registered in 2017 in Sao Paulo, according to Sao Paulo state figures. In February, police busted a cargo-looting ring that was stashing stolen trucks and merchandise at a rest stop right outside Sao Paulo. In Rio de Janeiro, some areas are so dangerous for truckers that the post office has halted deliveries in nearly half the city.

To show just how complicated life is sometimes, Brazil has some of the world’s toughest gun control laws.

(HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Interesting. It’s hard not to point out how the thieves used rifles in a country with tough gun control laws. It’s also interesting that it is much easier now to get an e-visa for Brazil than in the past. I have to wonder if the high rates of crime in Brazil will overcome the easier tourist access.

  2. I mean, if we were talking about a mass shooting its fair criticism but since we’re talking about a criminal and probably professional enterprise, then that’s apples and oranges.
    We can’t possess C4 easily in the US but the mob used to blow things up…Doesn’t mean ordinary citizens need more C4…

    Also, it sounds like they had rifles but didn’t use them? Classy.

  3. Brazil doesn’t have a solid rule of law. Whatever the law says, it’s irrelevant. Now, in the US, fortunately laws are adhered to in a much much higher degree, so gun control would have a significant impact. Please don’t fall for this misleading argument.

  4. @Peteco – Americans are not that law adhering when it comes to guns. See states that have passed mandatory registration laws for example & the low percentage of compliance among firearm owners.

  5. @Peteco
    If I understand your comment, you believe that outlawing guns in the US would drastically reduce crime and gun violence.
    Why doesn’t that work for illegal immigration?

  6. @Robert
    Because immigrants as a group commit lower crimes per capita than citizens.
    Bet you’ll never here that fact on your favored media sources!!!

  7. @Peteco
    Immigrants, yes. Illegal immigrants, no. Illegal immigrants commit more crimes per capita (not counting for their first crime of being here illegally).
    Bet you never hear that fact on your sources!!!!!!

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