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Henry Hill (born June 11, 1943 - June 12, 2012) was a former American mobster, Lucchese crime family associate, and FBI informant whose life was immortalized in the book Wiseguy, written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, and the 1990 Martin Scorsese film GoodFellas, in which Hill was played by actor Ray Liotta.
Early life Edit
Hill grew up in a lower income working class family in East New York, Brooklyn. His father, Henry Hill, Sr., was an Irish-American electrician, and his mother, Carmella Hill, was a Sicilian American. Henry and his seven siblings lived in a small house. From an early age he admired the local mobsters that socialized across the street from his home, who included Paul Vario, a capo in the Lucchese crime family. In his early teens Hill began running errands at Vario's cabstand, shoe shine stand, and pizzeria.
Early criminal career Edit
Hill's first experience in gang life began with parking cars and doing other odd jobs for the Lucchese crime family. Hill's first arrest came when he attempted to use a stolen credit card to buy tires at a Texaco gas station. Refusing to say anything to the police, he earned the respect of Lucchese Family associate Jimmy Burke, who saw great potential in young Henry. Hill soon dropped out of high school to devote all his time to working for gangsters. Burke, like Hill, was unable to become a made member of the Mafia because of his Irish ancestry, but the Mafia was more than happy to have associates of any ethnic background as long as they made money and did not cooperate with the authorities.
In 1960, Hill joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, North Carolina, for three years. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne paratrooper unit there, but maintained contact with Vario and his other friends in New York throughout his enlistment. Hill continued to hustle while in the service, selling extra food, loan sharking salary advances to his fellow soldiers, and selling tax-free cigarettes. Before being discharged, Hill spent two months in a military stockade for brawling and stealing a sheriff's car.
In 1963, he returned to New York, beginning the most notorious phase of his criminal career. Hill, along with Burke and Thomas DeSimone, and others in Burke's Robert's Lounge crew, hijacked trucks, sold stolen goods, imported and sold untaxed cigarettes, engaged in loan sharking and bookmaking, and planned airport robberies, carrying out the Air France Robbery in 1967 and the huge Lufthansa heist in 1978, as well as committing numerous mob-related murders. The Lufthansa score was one of the largest heists in history. The Lucchese family did not deal in any drugs because of the lengthy prison sentence that came with the drug trafficking charges.
In 1965, Hill met his wife, Karen. The two first eloped to North Carolina where they had a large wedding, to which most of Hill's gangster friends were invited. After the birth of their two children they rented an apartment in a two-family home in Island Park, New York in 1969.
Fallout between Hill, Vario, and Burke Edit
Hill was paroled in 1978 after serving five years of a ten-year prison sentence for extortion. Hill and Burke had severely beaten and pistol-whipped Gaspar Ciacco, a Tampa, Florida gambler who owed union official friends of theirs (Luis and Raul Charbonier) a large gambling debt. Burke was also released on parole around the same time as Hill.
Vario knew about Hill's drug dealing in prison and warned him not to continue with this now that he was out. Vario strongly opposed the trade of drugs in his crew because prison sentences imposed on anyone convicted of drug trafficking were so lengthy that the accused would often become informants in exchange for a lighter sentence. Hill nevertheless started a major interstate drug trafficking operation with Paul Mazzei, whom Hill had contacted while in prison; the potential to earn large amounts of money was too great to resist.
Hill began wholesaling marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and quaaludes, earning enormous amounts of money. After the murders of several of his friends by Burke, following the Lufthansa Heist, and the disappearance of his close friend Tommy DeSimone, who, Hill believed, had been delivered by Vario into the hands of (and murdered by) the Gambino crime family for killing two made members without permission, he became increasingly paranoid.
Hill and Mazzei also set up a point shaving scheme, which was put in place when Mazzei convinced Boston College center Rick Kuhn to participate. Kuhn encouraged teammates to join the scheme, which became a scandal. Hill also claimed to have an NBA referee who worked games at Madison Square Garden during the seventies in his pocket because of the debt the referee had incurred gambling on horse races.
On April 27, 1980, Hill was arrested on a narcotics-trafficking charge, bonded out of jail, and, shortly afterwards, was re-arrested as a material witness in the Lufthansa robbery. He became convinced that his former associates planned to have him killed: Vario, for dealing drugs; and Burke, to prevent Hill from implicating him in the Lufthansa robbery. This was confirmed by a surveillance tape played to Hill by federal investigators, in which Burke tells Vario of their need to have Hill "whacked".
In reference to his many victims, Hill, who claims that he has never killed anyone, stated in an interview in March 2008 with the BBC's Heather Alexander that "I don't give a heck what those people think; I'm doing the right thing now."
Informant and the witness protection program Edit
Hill chose to become an informant to avoid a possible execution by the Mafia or going to prison for his crimes; his testimony led to 50 convictions.
Gangster Jimmy Burke was given 20 years in prison for the 1978-79 Boston College point shaving scandal involving fixing Boston College basketball games and also later was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of scam artist Richard Eaton. Burke died of cancer while serving his life sentence, on April 13, 1996. He was 64.
Paul Vario received four years for helping Henry Hill obtain a no-show job to get him paroled from prison. Vario was also later sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion of air freight companies at JFK Airport. He died of respiratory failure on November 22, 1988, at age 73 while incarcerated in the Fort Worth Federal Prison.
Hill, his wife Karen, and their two children entered the U.S. Marshals' Witness Protection Program in 1980, changed their names, and moved to undisclosed locations in Omaha, Nebraska, then Independence, Kentucky, and eventually Redmond, Washington.
Later life and death Edit
Hill was arrested in 1987 in Seattle, Washington on narcotics-related charges.
In 1989, he and his wife Karen divorced after 25 years of marriage. Because of his numerous crimes while in witness protection, Hill (along with his wife) was expelled from the program in the early 1990s.
After the 1987 arrest, Hill claimed to be clean until he was arrested in North Platte, Nebraska in March 2005. Hill had left his luggage at Lee Bird Field Airport in North Platte, Nebraska containing drug paraphernalia, glass tubes with cocaine and methamphetamine residue. Hill battled alcoholism for years, claiming at one point that prison had saved his life.
Hill sold his artwork on eBay, and had been a regular on The Howard Stern Show. He returned to rehab in 2008, but during that period was arrested twice for public intoxication. Hill was sentenced to two years probation on March 26, 2009. December 14, 2009 he was arrested in Fairview Heights, Illinois, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest which Hill attributed to his drinking problems. Hill worked for a time as a chef at an Italian restaurant in Nebraska and his spaghetti sauce, Sunday Gravy, was marketed over the internet. Hill opened another restaurant, 'Wiseguys', in West Haven, Connecticut in October 2007. Amongst the luminaries who appeared was actor Ray Liotta, who portrayed him in the blockbuster film GoodFellas. During the making of the film, Hill served as an advisor/consultant, and quickly became fast friends with Liotta and actor Joe Pesci, who portrayed a version of Hill's friend an associate Tommy DeSimone in the Tommy DeVito character. In fall 2006, Hill appeared in a photo shoot along Liotta for Entertainment Weekly. At Liotta's urging, Hill entered alcohol rehabilitation two days after the shoot.
Hill died on June 12, 2012 in Los Angeles of Cancer; he was 69 years old. From 2008 until his death, Hill had resided in Malibu, California with his fiancee Lisa Caserta.