Thomas Anthony "Tommy" DeSimone (May 24, 1950 – disappeared January 14, 1979) was an American mobster associated with New York City's Lucchese crime family who is alleged to have participated in both the Air France robbery and the Lufthansa heist. He committed numerous murders, including of made man William Bentvena in 1970, and in 1979 went missing, presumably murdered himself.
DeSimone inspired the character Tommy DeVito, one of the main characters of the 1990 film Goodfellas, played by Joe Pesci in an Oscar-winning performance.
Tommy DeSimone had two sisters, Dolores and Phyllis, and two brothers, Robert and Anthony. Both of his brothers were associates of the Gambino crime family; Anthony was murdered by mobster Thomas Agro in 1979. Phyllis was James Burke's mistress from the time she turned 16. DeSimone was also the brother-in-law of mobster Joseph "The Barber" Spion, who was slain for refusing to help kill DeSimone in the late 1970s, and the ex-son-in-law of Gambino associate Salvatore DeVita.
DeSimone's father owned a printing shop, which he lost due to a compulsive gambling addiction. Both his paternal grandfather, Rosario DeSimone, and uncle, Frank DeSimone, were bosses of the Los Angeles crime family. Rosario became the boss of the Los Angeles family after Vito Di Giorgio was killed in Chicago in 1922. Frank was a criminal attorney turned mobster; "Uncle Frank", as he was known, replaced the deceased Jack Dragna in 1956, and became the second DeSimone family member to assume control of the Los Angeles family.
In 1965, when he was 15 years old, DeSimone was introduced to Paul Vario, a caporegime in the Lucchese family. Henry Hill, a Vario associate who was in his early 20s at the time, later recounted his first meeting with DeSimone, describing him as "a skinny kid who was wearing a wiseguy suit and a pencil mustache." DeSimone worked under Vario, Burke, and Hill, among others, becoming involved in truck hijackings, dealing and fencing of stolen property, extortion, fraud and murder. While hijacking, DeSimone would always carry his gun in a brown paper bag. "Walking down the street, he looked like he was bringing you a sandwich instead of a .38." Hill said.
Air France robbery
During the 1960s, Air France was the carrier of American currency that had been exchanged in Southeast Asia. The airline had contracted to return the money to the U.S for depositing with American banks. The money was usually carried in linen bags, each containing US$60,000, and Air France shipped up to $1 million a week in this manner. The money was stored in a cement-block strong room at the Air France cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, with a round-the-clock private security guard. In 1967, Robert McMahon, an Air France employee, tipped off Burke, Hill, and DeSimone to an incoming delivery of between $400,000 and $700,000 in cash on Friday, April 7. McMahon said the best time for the actual robbery would be just before midnight, when the security guard would be on his meal break.
On the day of the robbery, Hill and DeSimone drove to Kennedy airport with an empty suitcase, the largest Hill could find. At 11:40 p.m, they entered the Air France cargo terminal. McMahon said that they should just walk in, as people often came to the terminal to pick up lost baggage. DeSimone and Hill entered the unsecured area unchallenged and unlocked the door with a duplicate key. Using a small flashlight, they found seven of the bags, which they loaded into the suitcase and left; $420,000 was taken. No alarm was raised, no shots fired, and no one was injured. The theft was not discovered until the following Monday, when a Wells Fargo truck arrived to pick up the cash to be delivered to the French American Banking Corporation.
Murder of William "Billy Batts" Bentvena
After William "Billy Batts" Bentvena was released from prison in 1970, in the book Wiseguy, Henry Hill said that they threw a "welcome home" party for Bentvena at Robert's Lounge, which was owned by Jimmy Burke. Hill stated that Bentvena saw Tommy DeSimone and jokingly asked him if he still shined shoes and DeSimone perceived it as an insult. DeSimone leaned over to Hill and Burke and said "I'm gonna kill that motherfucker." Two weeks later, on June 11, 1970, Bentvena was at The Suite, a nightclub owned by Hill in Jamaica, Queens. Late in the night, with the bar club nearly empty, DeSimone pistol-whipped Bentvena. Hill said that before DeSimone started to beat Bentvena, DeSimone yelled, "Shine these fucking shoes!"
After Bentvena was beaten and presumed killed, DeSimone, Burke, and Hill placed his body in the trunk of Hill's car for transport. They stopped at DeSimone's mother's house to get a shovel and lime. They started to hear sounds from the trunk, and when they realized that Bentvena was still alive, DeSimone and Burke stopped the car and beat him to death with the shovel and a tire iron. Burke had a friend who owned a dog kennel in Upstate New York, and Bentvena was buried there.
About three months after Bentvena's murder, Burke's friend sold the dog kennel to housing developers, and Burke ordered Hill and DeSimone to exhume Bentvena's corpse and dispose of it elsewhere. In Wiseguy, Hill said the body was eventually crushed in a mechanical compactor at a New Jersey junkyard, which was owned by Clyde Brooks. However, on the commentary for the film Goodfellas, he states that Bentvena's body was buried in the basement of Robert's Lounge, a bar and restaurant owned by Burke, and only later was put into the car crusher.
Murders of Gianco, Cersani, and Jerothe
DeSimone's third murder, described by Hill, was of a young man named Michael "Spider" Gianco, who was serving as a bartender at a card game. Gianco and DeSimone had an argument (after Gianco forgot DeSimone's drink) that resulted in DeSimone pulling out a handgun and shooting him in the thigh. A week later, when Gianco was again serving drinks and donning a full leg cast, DeSimone started to goad him about his wounded leg, spurring Gianco to tell DeSimone to "go fuck himself". After a stunned silence, an impressed Burke, having now developed a respect for Gianco for sticking up for himself, gave him some money before jokingly teasing DeSimone, who hadn't said or done anything in retaliation, about "going soft". DeSimone lost his temper and fatally shot Gianco three times in the chest, angrily demanding of Burke if that was "good enough for him". Burke, furious with DeSimone, made him bury Gianco's body in the cellar by himself.
Hill stated that after he saw this he was truly convinced that DeSimone was a total psychopath. It is believed that Gianco's body was subsequently moved, because it was not found in that location. On The Howard Stern Show, Hill said that Gianco was buried next to Robert's Lounge, which was owned by Burke, along with other bodies.
DeSimone's fourth murder, according to Hill, occurred when he and another associate named Stanley Diamond got carried away after being asked to "rough up" a witness to a robbery. After a truck heist, a foreman had refused to allow Burke to unload the stolen cargo in his warehouse and vehemently protested because they had no union cards. Burke attempted to reason with the man, who stood his ground and refused to be intimidated. Burke later sent DeSimone and Diamond to the man's house in rural New Jersey, with instructions to "rough up" the man to ensure he would cooperate with Burke in the future. DeSimone and Diamond, angry and worked up about having to drive all the way to New Jersey, ended up beating the man to death.
DeSimone's fifth murder occurred when Burke ordered the murder of his best friend, Dominick "Remo" Cersani. Burke got suspicious about Cersani and later found out from contacts in a Queens DA's office that he was talking to the NYPD, and that they were going to arrest Burke on a truck hijacking charge. DeSimone and Burke met Cersani at Robert's Lounge and said to him, "let's take a ride". DeSimone strangled Cersani with piano wire. Hill said in Wiseguy: "Remo put up some fight. He kicked and swung and shit all over himself before he died." Burke had Cersani's body buried next to the bocce court behind Robert's Lounge.
On December 18, 1974, DeSimone killed Ronald "Foxy" Jerothe, a protégé of then-Gambino associate John Gotti. DeSimone had dated Jerothe's sister and had beaten her up, prompting Jerothe to threaten to kill him. When DeSimone heard about the threat, he went to Jerothe's apartment and killed him.
Lufthansa heist and Edwards murder
The Lufthansa heist was a robbery at Kennedy airport on December 11, 1978, in which an estimated $5.875 million (equivalent to $23 million in 2019) was stolen from the German airline Lufthansa, with $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry, making it the largest cash robbery committed on American soil at the time. Burke decided on DeSimone, McMahon, Angelo Sepe, Louis Cafora, Joe Manri, and Paolo LiCastri as the robbers. Burke's son Frank would drive one of the back-up vehicles and Parnell "Stacks" Edwards' job was to dispose of the van afterwards.
Soon after the heist, DeSimone murdered Parnell "Stacks" Edwards, a black musician and career criminal, who was supposed to have driven the vehicle to New Jersey, where it (along with any potential evidence inside) was to be destroyed in a junk yard belonging to Gotti. Instead, Edwards parked the truck in front of a fire hydrant at his girlfriend's apartment, where police discovered it two days after the heist. Paul Vario subsequently ordered DeSimone to kill Edwards. Once he found out where Edwards was hiding, DeSimone and Sepe visited Edwards and shot him five times in the head.
On January 14, 1979, DeSimone's wife, Angela, reported him missing. She said she had last seen DeSimone a few weeks earlier when he borrowed $60 from her. It is believed that DeSimone was murdered as revenge for the two unsanctioned murders of John Gotti's men, William "Billy Batts" Bentvena and Foxy Jerothe.
When Hill became an FBI informant in 1980, he told authorities that DeSimone had been murdered by the Gambino crime family. Despite the oft-given date of death of January 14, 1979, the exact date of DeSimone's murder is uncertain. Hill claimed that in "the week after Christmas," he and Burke had gone down to Florida to straighten out a drug deal gone bad. DeSimone had remained behind in New York, because he believed he was going to be made. Sometime in late December 1978 or early January 1979, DeSimone was contacted and told that he was going to be "made." Peter Vario (Paul Vario's son) and Bruno Facciolo took him to an unknown location, where he was murdered. Hill also indicated in both the book Wiseguy and the DVD commentary to Goodfellas that DeSimone had already been killed when Martin Krugman disappeared on January 6, 1979.
In 1994, Hill, in his book Gangsters and Goodfellas, gave an expanded story of the events leading up to DeSimone's death, which was in part due to Tommy trying to rape Hill's wife, Karen.
Two theories about DeSimone's alleged murder and murderer(s) exist from mob "insiders". According to mob informant Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi, Thomas Agro said in 1985 that he had murdered Thomas DeSimone. Agro also claimed to have murdered DeSimone's brother Anthony after he turned informant. Agro also suggested murdering the eldest and last remaining brother, Robert. According to Ianuzzi, Agro would often laughingly refer to killing the third DeSimone brother, stating: "Maybe it's time to go for the DeSimone trifecta!" Another account, told by Hill in Gangsters and Goodfellas, states that John Gotti himself was the assassin, although in the presence of Thomas Agro. On May 17, 2007, on the Howard Stern Show, Hill reaffirmed that Gotti had killed DeSimone. He also added that the death "took a long time," as Bentvena had been a personal friend of Gotti's, and he wanted DeSimone to suffer before he died. Gotti's role as the assassin was repeated in the 2015 book The Lufthansa Heist, cowritten by Hill and journalist Daniel Simone, although this account claims that DeSimone's death was instantaneous from three gunshots to the head. According to Sal Polisi, DeSimone was killed by Thomas Agro (in the presence of John Gotti), and that Agro slowly tortured him to death.
It has been theorized DeSimone is buried in a suspected "Mafia graveyard" on the Brooklyn-Queens border near John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the body of Al Indelicato was found in 1981, and the bodies of Philip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera were recovered by police in 2004.
In popular culture
DeSimone was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the 1990 movie Goodfellas, renamed Tommy DeVito. Pesci won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this depiction.