NEW YORK (AP) — Investigators with jackhammers and shovels are digging under a New York City house once occupied by a famous gangster who is said to have buried victims in familiar places.
The work started Monday the Queens neighborhood that was home to James Burke, a Lucchese crime family associate known as “Jimmy the Gent.” He was the inspiration for Robert De Niro’s character in the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas.”
Burke died behind bars in 1996, two decades after authorities say he masterminded a nearly $6 million robbery at New York’s Kennedy Airport — one of the largest cash thefts in American history.
The Queens house is still owned by the Burke family, but others now live there.
A blue tarp was erected in the backyard of the home on a quiet street in the South Ozone neighborhood. FBI agents and New York Police Department officers were seen shoveling dirt into buckets.
An FBI spokesman confirmed agents were investigating but gave no details.
Nicknamed “the Gent” for his tendency to tip heavily, Burke was arrested in 1980 for a parole violation — associating with a known felon — and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his part in a point-shaving scandal involving the Boston College basketball team.
While living in Queens, Burke owned a saloon called Robert’s Lounge that a fellow Lucchese associate, the late Henry Hill, described as Burke’s private cemetery where a number of mob victims were buried.
In his book, “A Goodfella’s Guide to New York,” Hill wrote that “Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies … under the bocce courts.”
The lounge was a mob hangout where the airport robbery of a Lufthansa Airlines freight area is said to have been planned by a mobster so accomplished that crime writer Nicholas Pileggi dubbed him a “criminal savant.”
In June 1980, a human leg bone and a portion of a human shoulder bone were excavated from the basement of the saloon.