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FBI makes find at home of Ozone Park mobster

A woman wearing a shirt with the words "FBI Evidence Response Team" digs with a shovel in the backyard of the Ozone Park home. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Two days after the FBI started looking for a body buried in Ozone Park, agents uncovered unspecified material Wednesday at the home of the late mobster James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, authorities familiar with the investigation said.

The search began Monday at Burke’s Ozone Park house to dig up evidence of the mobster’s misdeeds.

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team launched the investigation with jackhammers in hand. They were rumored to be searching for a body at the home of the gangster, an associate of the Lucchese crime family, who inspired the character James Conway in the movie “Goodfellas.”

A source said the FBI had found what it called material at the site but was waiting for the city medical examiner to determine whether the remains were human.

During the week representatives for the city’s FBI field office would only confirm that the FBI was conducting an investigation and declined to release any details of the hunt.

Property records show the home is in the name of Catherine Burke, one of Burke’s daughters.

Two women who entered the house earlier this week declined to comment.

FBI vehicles lined the street and yellow police tape blocked access to the front of the red brick house, at 81-48 102nd Road, where blue and gray tarps had been positioned to cover the driveway.

A neighbor, Victor Montero, said the presence of the FBI, which included two helicopters, surprised him. He initially thought the scene might be related to terrorists. Montero said. Before now, he had never seen any unusual activity at the house in the 20 years he has lived there.

Curious passers-by peeked in through the house’s red fence, which sits along Liberty Avenue, to see FBI investigators wielding sledgehammers and shovels to tear apart the backyard.

Burke is the suspected mastermind of the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, a robbery at John F. Kennedy International Airport during which more than $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry were stolen, making it the largest cash robbery in the United States at the time. Fearing that they would later implicate him, Burke had many of his heist associates murdered in the months following the robbery.

The heist was featured in the 1990 film “Goodfellas,” starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. The film was based on “Wiseguy,” a 1985 non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi, which chronicled the lives of New York City gangsters, including Jimmy Burke.

Burke was only ever convicted of one murder and, while serving 20 years to life in New York state prison, he died of cancer in Buffalo at the age of 64.

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at bfortis@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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