Paul "Paulie" Vario
Born (1914-07-09)July 9, 1914
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died May 3, 1988(1988-05-03) (aged 73)
Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Worth
Tarrant County, Texas

Paul Vario (July 9, 1914 – May 3, 1988) was a made man, a captain, and later the consigliere of the Lucchese crime family. In 1980, longtime associate Henry Hill became a government witness and testified against Vario and several others. Martin Scorsese's film Goodfellas is based on Hill's life inside The Vario Crew. Vario is depicted under the name, "Paul Cicero," and is played by actor Paul Sorvino.

Life[edit | edit source]

Paul Vario lived in New York City, where he became a member of the Lucchese crime family. In 1925, at the age of eleven, he had a seven-month stretch for truancy, and over the years he had been arrested for loan-sharking, burglary, tax evasion, bribery, bookmaking, contempt, and assorted assaults and misdemeanors.[1] Paul Vario's crew stole from the neighboring JFK International Airport through hijacking. Prior to 1963, the airport was known as Idlewild and was also then used as a fountain for stealing. Besides the Vario crew, the well-known Gambino family crew (led by Carmine Fatico and later John Gotti), also exploited the airport for their own criminal gain. According to former Vario associate Henry Hill, the airport was like the crew's "personal Citibank." Because of his influence over the cargo haulers' union, Vario could often threaten with a labor strike in order to turn an investigation away. During the 1980s the FBI would listen in with hidden microphones as fellow Lucchese family members and associates boasted "we own JFK," an obvious testament to the power and influence Vario wielded.

It was believed that any form of gambling (most commonly numbers game, bookmaking or underground casinos), that operated in the East New York section of Brooklyn paid regular 'protection' (extortion) payments. It was common knowledge that any racketeer wishing to operate in this area had to pay Vario and his brothers a portion of their earnings.

He and his brothers were involved in a number of legitimate businesses, including a flower shop, restaurant and cab stand, from which he would conduct business most of the time. Brother Vito "Tuddy" Vario ran the Euclid Avenue Cab Co. and Presto Pizzeria. At his height, Vario was earning an estimated $25,000 a day. Vario and his brothers, along with their criminal associates, operated in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, in East New York. Both the cab stand and pizzeria were located in close proximity on Euclid Avenue and were popular hangouts for the crew. Vario was one of the richest leaders of crime families in the 1950s.

According to Hill, Vario never used a telephone because he always believed it was too easy for someone else to overhear his conversations. Instead he would meet with his soldiers or other intermediaries who would talk to the people Vario needed to communicate with. He was married with three sons, all of whom became involved in their father's dealings in one way or another. Nicknamed "Paulie," he stood over six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds. He was deceptively strong despite his girth, and would intimidate underlings and enemies just by his sheer size and presence in the room.

Also according to Hill, Vario had a bad temper. Hill claims that Vario and his wife Phyllis went to restaurant called '"Don Pepe's," and that Vario and Phyllis had been waiting in line for a table for a half an hour and when Vario finally complained to the waiter they got their table. A couple minutes later at their table, Vario ordered some wine and a maitre d' poured wine all over Phyllis's dress and tried to dry it with a dirty rag. Vario got up and hit the maitre d' two times until he ran to the kitchen and blocked the door with other waiters with knives and heavy pans. Later, Vario went to the Robert's Lounge furious and said that he wanted everybody from the cab stand, Clyde Brooks from the Junkyard, and Jimmy Burke to wait for all the waiters outside of Don Pepe's at 11:00 p.m. Hill said that they had two carloads of guys with baseball bats and pipes, and that the minute the waiters got out, they ran, and that all the guys were chasing them and beating them all over Brooklyn.[citation needed]

In the early 1970s, Vario was "membership director" for mob boss Joe Colombo's Italian-American Civil Rights League. However, he rescinded his membership and withdrew all support when it became apparent that the relentless accusations Colombo was making against the FBI and U.S. government about racism and anti-Italian discrimination were attracting attention, which could easily divert from Colombo and his supporters' politics and into their criminal behavior.

It was also during the 1970s that Vario began to come under greater scrutiny from the FBI. Since the late 1960s, the Vario brothers had ventured into the junkyard business, most likely a front for a chop shop operation and would use an on-site trailer as an office to discuss business--legal and illegal. As a result of the surveillance, Vario was indicted but refused to cooperate. He was eventually found guilty of contempt and conspiracy to commit perjury and was sentenced to three years in prison. Prior to his conviction it was thought that Vario was serving as the underboss to then boss Carmine Tramunti. Vario was shipped off to the federal prison located in Lewisburg, PA. While in prison, Vario was part of the infamous "Mafia row."[2] This was a tier of fellow mobsters and, according to Hill, they lived like kings (compared to other prisoners) with wine and fine food. Hill was also serving a sentence of ten years at the Lewisburg facility for assault and extortion. Additionally, infamous Lucchese soldier Johnny Dio was serving time as well, and according to Hill acted as a cook for Vario and others.

Following Vario's release from prison in 1975, he was no longer the underboss in the Lucchese crime family, as it was apparent that new boss Anthony Corallo had made his intentions of having Salvatore "Tom Mix" Santoro fill the role.

According to Hill, Vario forbade those closest to him to engage in narcotics trafficking (although while in prison Hill dealt narcotics with Vario's blessing). During the first few years of his release, Vario maintained his strong ties to the Lucchese family capo and well-known dope trafficker Joseph "Joe Beck" DiPalmero. Because of their surveillance, the FBI believed that Vario had financed at least one large-scale cocaine shipment with the assistance of DiPalermo. The shipment was seized in Queens following a tip-off to the DEA and was valued at 1.5 million dollars. Vario's misfortune was soon forgotten when he approved of the Lufthansa Heist in 1978 and collected a handsome tribute payment.

Vario was an extremely wealthy man. He once showed Henry Hill a converted bank vault claiming it held one million dollars in cash.[citation needed]

Among Vario's associates were Jimmy Burke and Hill. Vario owned a cab stand across the street from the apartment where Hill grew up, and took Hill under his wing when the boy was twelve or thirteen, having him run errands and act as a valet. As the years went by, Vario initiated Hill into criminal life, telling all of his associates that Hill was his nephew. It was while on a double date with one of Vario's sons that Hill met his wife, Karen. She later became a courier for Hill, running messages to Vario, with whom she had an affair. Burke's protege Thomas DeSimone attempted to have sexual relations with Karen Hill. In order to resolve the situation and quell a vengeful Henry Hill, Vario held a sit-down with members of the Gambino crime family and revealed to them that DeSimone, who was not yet a made man, was responsible for the murders of two of their members, prompting them to murder DeSimone in revenge. Vario was later imprisoned largely because of the testimony of Henry Hill.

Vario was known to be brutal and ruthless, despite his portrayal as brooding and a fatherly figure in Goodfellas. Hill saw a show of this violence first hand. He watched, aged twelve or thirteen, as Vario drove up to a barmaid's apartment, took a baseball bat from the trunk of his car and severely assaulted her for telling his wife that the two were having an affair. The barmaid's collar bone was broken. Hill then said that he was finally convinced that Vario was a gangster.

Family[edit | edit source]

Paul and his wife, Phylis, had three sons, Peter, Paul Jr., and Leonard. He is the grandfather of actor/artist Paul Vario of

Paul had four brothers; Vito (1928–1988), Salvatore (1919–1976), Leonard (1909–1981), and Thomas (1917–1984). Vario was a maternal cousin of Colombo crime family consigliere John Oddo and his brother, mobster Steven. He was also related to Whitey Bulger associate Benedetto Oddo (1939-).

Death[edit | edit source]

Vario died on May 3, 1988,[3] at age seventy-three, while incarcerated at Fort Worth Federal Prison in Texas. He was serving a ten to twelve year sentence for convictions largely gained through the testimony of former Lucchese associate Henry Hill.

He is buried at St. John's Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Notes[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Pileggi, Nicholas, Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family, Corgi (1987) ISBN 0-552-13094-X
  • Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: St. Martin Press, 2005. ISBN 0-312-30094-8

External links[edit | edit source]

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