Paul Vario

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Paul Vario
Paul Vario.png
Mug shot of Vario
Born(1914-07-10)July 10, 1914
DiedMay 3, 1988(1988-05-03) (aged 73)
Resting placeSt. John Cemetery, Queens, New York, U.S.
Other namesPaulie
Spouse(s)Vita Vario (first wife)
Phyllis Vario (second wife)
AllegianceLucchese crime family
Conviction(s)Tax evasion (1973)
Fraud (1984)
Extortion (1985)
Criminal penaltySix years' imprisonment (1973)
Four years' imprisonment and $10,000 fine (1984)
10 years' imprisonment (1985)

Paul Vario (July 10, 1914 – May 3, 1988) was an American mobster and made man in the Lucchese crime family. Vario was a caporegime and had his own crew of mobsters in Brooklyn, New York. Following the testimony of Henry Hill, Vario was convicted in 1984, of fraud, and sentenced to four years in prison, followed by a conviction for extortion in 1985, and an additional sentence of 10 years in prison. He died on May 3, 1988, of lung failure in prison.

He was portrayed as Paul Cicero by Paul Sorvino in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas.

Early life[edit]

Vario was born on July 10, 1914, in New York City.[1] In 1925, at age 11, Vario was sentenced to seven months in juvenile detention for truancy.[2] He later became a member of the Lucchese crime family.

Vario and his first wife, Vita, had three sons, Peter, Paul Jr., and Leonard. He later married his second wife, Phyllis.

Vario allegedly had a very violent temper. One night Vario took his wife, Phyllis, out to dinner. While they were sitting at the table, the maître d'hôtel accidentally poured wine on Phyllis' dress, then tried to dry it with a dirty rag. An enraged Vario hit the maitre d'hôtel twice. Later that night, Vario sent two carloads of men armed with baseball bats and pipes to assault the waiters after the restaurant had closed.[3]

On July 20, 1973, Leonard Vario died of severe burns at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. The cause of his injuries was never discovered. At his funeral, two television cameramen and a police detective were beaten by the mourners.[4]

Rackets and businesses[edit]

Vario's crew notably included Thomas DeSimone and Henry Hill. Vario owned a junkyard in Canarsie, Brooklyn where he reportedly oversaw schemes that included hijackings, loan-sharking, bookmaking and fencing stolen property. He and his associates were reputed to have been involved in criminal dealings at John F. Kennedy Airport, extorting money from shippers and airlines in exchange for labor peace.[5]

Vario was also involved in legitimate businesses that included a flower shop, a bar, a restaurant and a taxi stand. Vario would also use these business locations to conduct his illegal rackets. At his height, Vario was earning an estimated $25,000 a day for all these illegal rackets. According to Hill, Vario once told him that he had stashed $1 million in a single vault.[6] During this period, Vario also served as a consigliere to Lucchese boss Carmine Tramunti.[7][8]

Prosecution and prison[edit]

In 1970, Vario was cited for contempt of court and was sent to the Nassau County Correctional Facility on Long Island for seven months.[9]

On April 7, 1972, law enforcement placed an electronic listening device inside Vario's trailer at the junkyard and started gathering evidence against him.[10] In addition, a police detective wearing a listening device started visiting the trailer. Vario was convinced the policeman was corrupt and soon started offering him bribes. The entire surveillance operation lasted about six months.[11]

In October 1972, police raided Vario's junkyard in Canarsie.[7] On November 1, 1972, Vario was indicted on charges of tampering with a witness. He had allegedly advised Frank Heitman, a convicted gambler, to flee to Florida to avoid testifying to a grand jury in Nassau County. To arrest Vario, police had to chase his car for 20 minutes through the streets of Brooklyn before he finally stopped for them.[9] On November 21, 1972, Vario was indicted on insurance fraud charges. He and several co-conspirators had stripped a boat of its equipment, sunk it, and then filed a $7,000 insurance claim.[12] On December 7, 1972, Vario was indicted on charges that included attempting to bribe the officer at the trailer.[13] Also in December 1972, Vario pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received probation. However, Vario violated probation in early 1973 and was in jail by February 1973.[14]

On February 9, 1973, Vario was convicted on tax evasion charges. On April 6, 1973, Vario was sentenced to six years in federal prison for the tax evasion conviction.[7]

Vario was sent to the federal prison located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. While in prison, Vario was part of the infamous "Mafia row" of prisoners.[15]

Release from prison[edit]

In 1975, Vario was released from federal prison. He was no longer the underboss in the Lucchese crime family; new boss Anthony Corallo had replaced Vario with Salvatore Santoro. On parole, Vario moved to a residence near Miami, Florida.[16]

In 1978, Vario approved his crew's participation in the infamous Lufthansa heist at JFK airport. The idea was presented to Vario by phone while he was in Florida. Vario quickly gave his approval, but insisted that Jimmy Burke, then in prison, supervise it. In December 1978, the crew successfully looted an estimated $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry (equivalent to $24.4 million in 2021).[16]

Return to prison and death[edit]

On February 9, 1984, Vario was convicted of defrauding the federal government. Now a government witness, Hill testified that Vario had arranged a fictitious restaurant job for Hill so that Hill could be released from federal prison.[17] Vario was convicted and on April 3, 1984, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison and fined $10,000.[18]

On February 21, 1985, while serving his prison sentence, Vario was indicted in a racketeering conspiracy that involved extortion. He and co-conspirators were charged with extorting over $350,000 from air cargo companies at JFK airport, threatening them with labor problems if they did not pay.[19] Convicted again with the help of Hill's testimony, he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for extortion.[5]

Vario died on May 3, 1988, aged 73, from lung failure as a result of lung cancer while incarcerated at Fort Worth Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas.[5] He is buried at St. John Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Cultural depictions of Vario[edit]

Vario has been portrayed in several media productions.


  1. ^ ganized Crime in America: Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary. United States Congress. 1983.
  2. ^ Pileggi, Nicholas. Wiseguy: The 25th Anniversary Edition. Simon & Schuster. p. 8.
  3. ^ Pileggi, Nicholas (27 September 2011). Wiseguy: The 25th Anniversary Edition. Simon & Schuster. p. 120. ISBN 9781451642780. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  4. ^ Sibley, John (October 11, 1973). "Detective and 2 TV Men Beaten At Funeral of Mafia Chief's Son". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Obituary in The New York Times: Paul Vario, 73; Called a Leader Of Crime Group
  6. ^ Pileggi, Nicholas (2011). Wiseguy: The 25th Anniversary Edition. Simon & Schuster. p. 54. ISBN 9781451642780. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  7. ^ a b c "VARIO IS SENTENCED TO 6 YEARS IN JAIL" (PDF). The New York Times. April 7, 1973. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  8. ^ Gangbusters: The Destruction of America's Last Great Mafia Dynasty by Ernest Volkman (pp. 125–32)
  9. ^ a b Markham, James M (November 2, 1972). "Vario, son, and 2 others indicted after trailer bug" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  10. ^ Markham, James M (October 26, 1972). "VARIO AND 4 HELD IN HIJACKING CASE". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  11. ^ Markham, James M (November 14, 1972). "Gold Tells How Detective Infiltrated Mafia's Trailer". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  12. ^ Kaplan, Morris (November 22, 1972). "REPUTED MAFIOSO INDICTED 6TH TIME". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  13. ^ Markham, James M (December 7, 1972). "2 Detectives and 7 Others Indicted in Mafia Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  14. ^ "VARIO CONVICTED OF TAX EVASION" (PDF). The New York Times. February 10, 1973. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  15. ^ Gene Mustain, Jerry Capeci (2002). Chapter 9: "Club Lewisburg". Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti. Penguin. ISBN 9780028644165. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  16. ^ a b Feiden, Doug (June 4, 1979). "The Great Getaway: the Inside Story of the Lufthansa Robbery". New York Magazine: 39. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  17. ^ "Crime Figure FacesPrisonTerm". The New York Times. February 10, 1984.
  18. ^ Pilegi, Nicholas (January 27, 1986). "Wise Guy". New York Magazine: 39. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  19. ^ Fried, Joseph P (February 22, 1985). "11 INDICTED IN AIRPORT EXTORTION CASE". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014.

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