Robert McMahon

Robert McMahon

Robert McMahon a.k.a. "Frenchy" a.k.a. "Bobby McMahon" (Wantagh, New York July 24, 1936 – Flatlands, Brooklyn, Mill Basin, Brooklyn, May 16, 1979) was the night-shift Air France cargo handling supervisor at JFK Airport from 1957 to his death in 1979. He helped orchestrate the 1967 Air France Robbery, and is a suspect in the 1978 Lufthansa heist.

Childhood & Prestigious Upbringing

Robert McMahon was an Anglo Irish-American who had the stereotypical appearance of an accountant or a Wall Street banker. He stood at 5'7 and had a thin physique with naturally curly black hair. He suffered from poor eye vision and wore prescription glasses. Robert had earned the comical nickname ""Frenchy" from working at the Air France terminal at JFK airport. McMahon's alliance with the La Cosa Nostra was always tenuous. He had inherited the relationship from his former boss, Thomas Lucchese, who had himself inherited a tradition going all the way to Charles Luciano. When consorting with criminals Robert was always seen wearing expensive thousand-dollar business suits. He was a middle-aged bachelor with the remnants of a playboy image. Among members of the Vario Crew he was considered part of the upper-crust, known as the "lace curtain" Irish, and looked upon the "shanty" Irish like Burke and associates as a hopeless and disdainful breed, but never spoke publicly about his thoughts. He was born in Wantagh, New York to immigrants of Kildare, Ireland. He belonged to an old Irish family who had been land owners, physicians, lawyers, businessmen and local politicians for generations when settling in Bethayres, Pennsylvania, a small village in Lower Moreland Township, Pennsylvania. By the time Robert was born his family was financially secure and lived very prosperously, as McMahon's surviving relatives do to this very day off the family's mass fortune. Robert grew up under financially secure circumstances from this inherited wealth. One of Robert's ancestors, Thomas McMahon served as supervisor of Abington Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania for thirteen consecutive years.

Employment at Airport and Criminal Enterprising

Robert attended Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, New York and earned a bachelor degree and a keen business sense. While at Hofstra Robert also learned how to fluently speak the French language and read it, which he used when calling to the airline's head offices located at Charles de Gaulle International Airport situated in Paris, France. He first was a freight supervisor at Air France before he was promoted to cargo foreman. As a grown man and airport executive, he was a stereotypical yuppie, greedy, rich, shallow, a womanizer, had romantic trysts with Air France airplane stewardesses and prostitutes, was a user of recreational drugs, and practiced conspicuous consumption. The McMahon family's inherited wealth cushioned McMahon from financial hardship and his life was far from a struggle. He was a large man with a love for fine cuisine, alcohol, boisterous in nature and a very humorous man and a relative of a very independently wealthy family. In 1979 Robert was involved in a relationship with his third wife and was raising several children that he had fathered from his two previous marriages. He lived in a stereotypical nuclear family fashion in Hempstead, Long Island which members of the Vario Crew were envious of. Fellow hijaker friend Henry Hill admired and commended Robert for shielding his family from police scrutiny for his involvement the major hijacking operations at the airport.

tatus with the Lucchese Crime Family

The only problem that arose between Robert and the Vario Crew was that Robert wasn't a gangster and he didn't understand being a gangster. Coming from a wealthy family he didn't understand what it was like to be broke, to have to go out and steal or hijack trucks for a living. He truly didn't understand gangsters like Paul Vario, Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill or Thomas DeSimone, anyone who was a real hoodlum or gangster in that sense of the word. Robert was the one responsible for obtaining the keys for the storage room that helped Henry Hill and Tommy DeSimone pull off the 1967 Air France Robbery. He was not the owner or named after Jimmy Burke's Queens, New York bar Robert's Lounge. Even with Robert's wealth he was neglectful of paying child support and alimony payments to his two ex-wives. He was able to form as a figure of Long Island society, enjoying trips overseas through Air France to Paris, France and generally made the most of his life without wearying himself at his mundane profession. Robert was not a mobster, or a career criminal, but idolized the lifestyle and enjoyed associating with the likes of Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill and Tommy DeSimone. He was one of the many airport's many employees who needed little urging to toss an expensive looking suitcase or a crate of television sets onto a passing truck heading off the runway. Special Agent Arthur Stiffel, in charge of U.S. Customs at the airport would later say, "The people assisting in thefts around here are often just squaring a $2,000 or $3,000 debt to a loan shark." McMahon was an alleged associate of Jimmy Burke, as well as that of Henry Hill.

Throughout his life, Robert was always looking for an easy way to earn an illegitimate dollar from the system, even though he was well paid for his executive position at the airport. Because of Robert's criminal association with the Lucchese crime family and Paul Vario, Casey Rosado who was the President of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union at John F. Kennedy Airport with backing from the Lucchese crime family and Johnny Dio. They protected McMahon from being terminated from his key position at Air France by threatening his employers with a union strike. Robert was a notorious womanizer who in 1979 was involved in his third marriage. McMahon was one of the Robert's Lounge crew who organized and perpetrated the Lufthansa Heist working on a tip-off from illegal bookmaker Martin Krugman. Even after his murder, his friend Joe Manri was revealed to have been identified by police as an "associate of Jimmy Burke", but McMahon was not largely considered a suspect. Within hours following the Lufthansa heist his fellow employees had both named McMahon and his friend Manri as likely inside men that had motive and means to help pull of the Lufthansa heist. This is most likely due to the fact that McMahon was already very wealthy from his family.

Through his work at the airport Robert and Joe Manri became close and inseparable friends. They had many things in common, both used their positions at the airport to commit crimes, and both were constant womanizers. Around May of 1979, having successfully pulled off the Lufthansa heist he Robert fell into maritial problems with his third wife, ultimately facing an impending divorce, and became estranged from her and his children. Joe was sternly drilled in his ways as a bachelor. Robert was a gusher of newly tapped oil spraying about in all directions. Joe's emotional background was tight, controlled, with everything in its proper place, and was unhappy over his weight problems and deeply unaffectionate. His friend McMahon roared out of a conflagration of overlapping, overspilling, competing and confusing flialing emotionsin which was as it seemed, Joe was austere, Robert profligate, Joe was clean and tiny, Robert was messy and unorganized.

His friend Joe dutifully allowed him to sublet an apartment in South Ozone Park, Queens with him.

Key Figure in Airport Hijacking Racket

At the time when McMahon was first employed at the John F. Kennedy Airport when the Air France terminal airport was first opened. The Air Cargo Center, the airport's cargo facility which was the largest such facility in the world at the time. Robert's job position at Air France solidified his relationship with the hijackers Jimmy Burke, Johnny Dio and Paul Vario. Robert's duty as cargo foreman was to supervise the going-ons of the Air France terminal. The Air Cargo Center, where the Air France terminal was housed, leased its vast space out at the time of his employment to twenty-eight different airlines including at the time of his employment Sundrome of National Airlines, Eastern Airlines, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France and TWA, including many air express agencies Continental Airlines, Evergreen International Airlines, FedEx, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, United Airlines and United Parcel Service, customhouse commodity broker firms, federal customhouse Port Authority of New York and New Jersey inspection services, and private carting companies. Each of the twenty-eight airlines kept their own valuables in airport security guarded security rooms, some of them enclosed by steel, cinder blocks or wire cages.

The first accounting of thefts from the Air Cargo Center revealed in 1967, during McMahon's employment showed that $2,245,868 in cargo had been stolen during the preceding ten months. This amount did not include the hundreds of hijackings of airport cargo stolen outside the vicinity of the airport, from transport trucks nor did it include thefts in the airport valued less that a $1,000. During the ten-month period in the 1967 survey, 45 major robberies were committed at the Air Cargo Center, including thefts of clothing, palladium ingots, pearls, watches, musical instruments, hydraulic pumps, cigarettes, Gramophone records, over the counter pharmaceuticals, wigs, and diamonds. All these robberies were suspected to have been orchestrated with information or through actual assistance from McMahon.

McMahon first met Jimmy Burke when he came across a small 24-by-48-inch box of silk dresses which had unknowingly fallen off the back of a transport truck at the Air France terminal. Jimmy Burke unloaded the shipment for McMahon at his dress factory Moo Moo Vedda's in South Ozone Park, Queens for $18,000, which McMahon received a fair portion of. For every hijacking or theft McMahon organized with Burke and Vario, he received a flat rate of 50%. In 1983 FBI Supervisor Edward J. McDonald would later comment, "Even after convictions air freight executives willing to disclose racketeering at JFK are few and far between"." The New York FBI Chief Thomas Sheer added, "Some of them make so much money they don't care about racketeering"." Through his mutual criminal friends he became a close companion of Joe Manri. The two men got along well. The difference between the two men was that Joe knew how to save and invest his earnings, Robert gambled at the Aqueduct Racetrack or spent it in upper class night clubs and discoteques which made up Wantaugh's a very energetic and vibrant nightlife. It was, and still is centered around the Wantagh Long Island Railroad Station there are bars, pubs, and clubs all within a quarter mile of the station. There also wasn't a day that he wasn't playing craps or throwing dice at Robert's Lounge or The Bamboo Lounge.

Later, McMahon gave information to Jimmy Burke, telling him about the independently hired airline security personnel, the individual airline guards, the Port Authority, customs inspectors, FBI field agents and uniformed police officers from the 103rd Brooklyn, New York Precinct NYPD Patrol Services Bureau that toured the facility on a fairly regular basis. He would become friends with two of the officers from the 103rd Brooklyn, New York precinct, James Santos and Lawrence "Larry" Bilello.

tolen Airline Ticket Racket

Robert McMahon was also involved in the selling of stolen airline tickets from Air France and other terminals. Fellow Air France employee Joe Manri, Lucchese crime family mob associate Henry Hill and himself would purchase thousands' of dollars worth of airline tickets which they would either cash for a full reimbursement or sell them at 50% discounts to willing customers who were usually legitimate travelling businessmen or close friends and acquaintances. Frank Sinatra Jr.'s music manager Dante Barzotinni, known to mobsters as "Tino Barzie" was one of the group's best customers. One time he bought $50,000 worth of tickets from them to fly Sinatra Jr. and a group of eight friends accompanying him around the country. Barzie was eventually caught and convicted of the charges, but did not implicate Manri or Hill. They would sell these to legitimate businessmen and friends. After buying the tickets, they would either sell them for 50% off, or call in for a cancellation and cash in the tickets for a full refund.

Major robberies

He was a hijacker accomplace who had been the 'inside man' on the Air France Robbery of 1967 and another $200,000 robbery that occurred in 1976 with the help of Lufthansa employees Louis Werner and Peter Gruenwald. By far, his most famous robbery was the infamous 1978 Lufthansa Heist, in which it is widely believed he partook. In the movie "Goodfellas" his wife is played by LoNardo. In the 1960s Robert also arranged a theft with a Eastern Airlines delivery truck driver who had fallen behind in his gambling debts to Jimmy Burke. The driver arranged with Robert a plan to accidentally drop some mail courier sacks along the road from an incoming-outcoming cargo terminal while enroute to the post office. Burke had a car with some hoods waiting by to retrieve the "lost" sacks. The sacks were found to contain $2 million in untraceable U.S. currency and stocks.

Number Running

When McMahon was promoted to Air France cargo foreman for the Air France terminal, one of his responsibilities was to observe the day-to-day deliveries and inventory at the Lufthansa cargo terminal. Since he had to interact with many of the backfield airport workers on a routine basis, he was given a special privileged position as a glorified numbers runner for his fellow co-workers. He would deliver his co-workers' wagers to Lucchese crime family capo Steven DePasquale at The Suite or Robert's Lounge. His job position helped him disguise his routine interactions with the workers, giving him allowance to collect wagers. Yet Robert was also a heavy gambler. He would inform trusted co-workers who were degenerate gamblers to visit The Bamboo Lounge or the floating craps games that were organized by Salvatore Vario. Robert also allowed himself to be a contact point for employees who had fallen into debt with Jimmy Burke and Martin Krugman.

McMahon & Manri execution

McMahon was killed along with twelve others allegedly on the orders of Jimmy Burke, who either didn't wish to give McMahon a fair share of the estimated $6-8 million loot or was afraid that he would become an FBI informant. It is also in the book "Wiseguy" by Henry Hill that McMahon was very talkative and had a boisterous nature about him. His close friendship with co-worker Joe Manri also caused a worry with both Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke from the very beginning of the robbery, while still in planning, that McMahon might unintentionally tell or brag about his involvement in such a large robbery as the Lufthansa heist. He also could implicate Burke in the 1967 Air France Robbery, which at that time was still unsolved.

On May 16, 1979, a school boy walking to school passed a two-door 1973 Buick Riviera in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, New York; inside were two men who looked to be sleeping. When he peered closer he saw the blood and realized that the two had both been shot through the back of the head - one was McMahon and the other was his best friend Joe Manri. Henry Hill suspected that Jimmy Burke paid fellow Lufthansa heist suspect Paolo LiCastri $50,000 to murder the two airport employees. Paolo LiCastri would later be found murdered, most likely at the hands of his benefactor Jimmy Burke. The two Lufthansa employees were not shot and dumped in a dumpster to be discovered to sanitation workers, as portrayed in the movie "Goodfellas". During the initial investigation conducted by police upon discovery of the bodies, one of the onlookers in the crowd was rising mobster Sammy Gravano who would briefly mention seeing the slain corpses of McMahon and Manri in their Buick Riviera in his biography.

In popular media

Mike Starr portrays McMahon as "Frenchy" in Goodfellas and has a brief role as "Sal Frisco" based on professional lock and key burglar and informant Salvatore Romano in the film Casino. The Sal Marino character is a mob associate Nicky Santora, played by Joe Pesci who is later seen assisting in murdering his capo.


*"The Heist" by Ernest Volkman and John Cummings
* "Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family" by Nicholas Pileggi
* "HOW THE MAFIA LOOTS JFK AIRPORT MORE THAN $59 BILLION OF FREIGHT and 27 million passengers a year are irresistible pickings for mobsters, who have made it a hotbed of stealing, smuggling and extortion" from Fortune Magazine Roy Rowan and Christopher Knowlton June 22 1987
* "Underboss: Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's Story of Life In The Mafia" by Peter Maas

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