Paul Vario (July 9, 1914 – May 3, 1988) was an extremely powerful capo in the Lucchese Family. Some reports say that he also was the Underboss (Caporegime) of the Lucchese crime family in the mid-1970s but later resigned. Vario was a maternal cousin of Colombo crime family consigliere Johnny Oddo and his brother, mobster Steven "Little Stevie" Oddo. He ran his own crew. Additionally Vario was thought to have held the position of acting underboss for Stefano LaSalle of the Lucchese crime family just prior to the conviction of then mob boss Carmine Tramunti and before Anthony Corallo became the official leader. Under the rule of Corallo, the Underboss rank went to Salvatore Santoro. He was portrayed as Paul Cicero by actor Paul Sorvino in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas.
Vario lived all his life in New York City and was believed to be involved in loansharking and racketeering. The Vario crew stole from the neighboring JFK International Airport through hijacking. Prior to 1963 the airport was known as the Idlewild Airport and was also then used as 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.
Illegal gambling and loansharking were also staples for Vario and his associates. It was believed that any form of gambling (most commonly numbers game, bookmaking or underground casinos) that operated in the Brownsville-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 cabstand, 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, and for over 30 years, Vario was earning an estimated $1 million a day thru extortion, loan sharking, illegal gambling, labor racketeering, labor unions, truck hijacking, aircraft hijacking, armed robbery, bank robbery, and legitimate businesses such as waste management, construction, and meat, produce and fish markets. Vario and his brothers, along with their criminal associates operated in Brownsville section of Brooklyn, in East New York. Both the cabstand and pizzeria were located in close proximity on Euclid Avenue and were popular hangouts for the crew. Vario was one of the Lucchese crime family's biggest money-makers. Mario was also one of the richest members within the Lucchese crime family.
According to Hill, Vario never used a phone 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 290 pounds. He was deceptively strong despite his girth, and would intimidate underlings and enemies just by his sheer size and his presence in the room.
In the early 1970s Paul was "membership director" for mob boss Joseph 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 behaviour.
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. 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'. This was a tier of fellow mobsters and according to Hill they lived like kings compared to other prisoners with wine, liquor, soda, mini golf corse, king sized beds, television, personal showers, cigars, cigarettes, fine food, and having sex with women. Hill was also serving a sentence of ten years at the Lewisburg facility for assault, attempted murder, 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 the boss Anthony Corallo had made his intentions of having Salvatore Santoro fill the role.
According to Hill, Vario forbade those closest to him to engage in narcotics trafficking (although while in prison Hill openly dealt narcotics with Vario's blessing). During the first few years of his release, Vario maintained his strong ties to the powerful Lucchese family capo and notorious drug 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 $12 million dollars. Vario's misfortune was soon forgotten when he approved of the Lufthansa Heist in 1978 and collected a handsome tribute payment of $3 million.
Vario was an extremely powerful and an extremely rich man. He once showed Henry Hill a converted bank vault claiming it held $100 million in cash. According to Henry Hill, Vario was a billionaire, and claimed he had a net worth of an estimated $2 billion.
Among Vario's associates were Jimmy Burke and Henry 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. Karen later became a courier for Hill, running messages to Vario, with whom she had an affair. Burke's protege Tommy DeSimone attempted to have sexual relations with Karen Hill, Henry Hill's wife. 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 extremely brutal and ruthless, despite his portrayal as brooding and gentle 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 and brutally assaulted with the baseball bat for telling his wife that the two were having an affair. The barmaid's collar bone was broken, several ribs were broken, and every bone in her face was broken.
Family and Lineage Edit
Paul had a wife, Phyliss and three sons, Peter "Petey" Vario, Paul "Little Paulie" Vario Jr., and Leonard "Lenny" Vario, all of whom became involved in crime. Paul Jr. was a good friend of mobster Hill and introduced him to his first wife Karen Hill. Lenny was allegedly Paul, Sr.'s favorite son; he burned to death while torching property in connection with a union. Little is known about his other son, Peter. Vario adored Phyliss and was once so enraged that in a restaurant that he frequented called, DonPepe, located on Leffers Boulevard, in Ozone Park, Queens, N.Y., a maitre 'd accidentally spilled wine on her dress one night that he sent his entire 'crew' to the restaurant, where they assaulted the maitre'd and other members of the staff who tried to help the maitre'd. He is the grandfather of the Hollywood actor Paul Vario who starred in the mob thriller This Thing of Ours with James Caan, Frank Vincent, and Vincent Pastore.
Paulie also had four brothers; Vito 'Tuddy' Vario (1928-1988), Salvatore Vario (1919-1976), Leonard Vario (1909-1981), and Thomas Vario (1917-1984). He is also a relative of Boston, Massachusetts Whitey Bulger associate Benedetto "Chubby" Oddo (1939-). The Vario family originated from Sicily. The etymology of the Vario surname is that it was originally a nickname given to a person who lives in or comes from the property of Vannius.
Death and legacyEdit
Paul "Paulie" Vario died while incarcerated at FCI Fort Worth, Texas, (Fort Worth Federal Prison) on November 22, 1988, at the age of seventy-three while he was serving a ten to twelve year sentence for convictions largely gained through the testimony of former Lucchese associate Henry Hill, who turned state's evidence and testified against Vario, Jimmy "The Gent" Burke and others, as the film GoodFellas more or less accurately relates. Hill entered the Federal Witness Protection Program after testifying, but was expelled several years later for revealing his identity in preparation for his autobiography "Gangsters and Goodfellas".
Paul Vario's body is buried at St. John's Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.
In popular culture Edit
In the 1990 film GoodFellas, chronicling Henry Hill's life in the Mafia, Paul Vario is featured as a major character. He is renamed (many of the main characters last names were changed for legal reasons) "Paul Cicero" and portrayed by actor Paul Sorvino.
In the 2001 made for TV film, The Big Heist, following the events of the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, Vario was played by actor Gino Marrocco.