Goodfella, Henry Hill

 Henry Hill was born June 11, 1943 in Brownsville Brooklyn. He is most famous for being portrayed by actor Ray Liotta in the 1990 blockbuster movie, Goodfellas as a Lucchese family associate involved in several high profile robberies, murders, scandals, and finally as an FBI informant.

Henry grew up in a working class family in East New York, Brooklyn and had seven brothers and sisters. His father was an electrician while his mother stayed home with the children. As the movie showed, Henry grew up admiring the Mafioso who socialized at a cabstand across the street from his home. Before long he was running errands for several of them and one in particular named Paul Vario, a caporegime in the Lucchese crime family.

At the age of 14 Hill was collecting bets and loan shark payments from construction sites for Vario and his brothers. He earned $190 a week just for being a “member” of the union and in addition earned a substantial amount of money as a runner. His biggest tipper was Vario crew member Jimmy Burke who tipped Hill $20 bills for walking a drink from the bar to the table in one of the nightclubs run by the Vario crew. When the money started rolling in, Henry dropped out of school and at the age of 15 devoted 100% of his time to being a gangster.

In 1959 when Hill was 16 years old he was arrested for attempting to use a stolen credit card.  Having been around the mob for a few years, Hill knew cooperating with the police wasn’t’t an option. He was released shortly after only giving his name and earned the respect of many of the Vario crew including Jimmy Burke which was said to be difficult to do.

In 1965 Paul Vario introduced Hill to his future wife, Karen. Karen’s family didn’t condone their

Henry Hill with Ray Liotta

relationship and they had to elope later that year in North Carolina. Karen’s family did not attend the wedding, while most of Hill’s gangster friends did, and same as the movie, handed envelopes of cash as presents for the new couple.

Hill and fellow Lucchese associate Thomas DeSimone made their first big score when they robbed $420,000 from an Air France shipment on April 7, 1967. Hill and DeSimone copied a key from a guard in charge of the incoming cargo flight, and after it arrived, walked out of the cargo hold with bags of cash. They paid out $120,000 in tributes (as every associate is required to do) to Paul Vario and Colombo caporegime Sebastian “Buster” Aloi who considered the airport his turf.

Although the majority of his money was made illegally, Hill knew he would need to maintain legitimate income if he was going to out smart the FBI and stave off tax evasion indictments that often brought down gangsters in that era. In 1969, Hill purchased a restaurant called “The Suite” that was supposed to remain legitimate, but quickly became a mob hangout.

In June 1970, Gambino family made man William “Billy Bats” Devino fresh off a 6 year prison term was drinking with Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill, and DeSimone, at Hill’s restaurant. Little did Devino know, he was spending his last moments alive as Burke and DeSimone intended on killing him for remarks Devino had made a couple weeks earlier. The movie Goodfellas condensed this into one scene when they pistol whipped and stomped Billy Batts to death on Hills floor, but in all actuality, the beef had been brewing for weeks. After rolling Devino into a mattress cover provided by DeSimone, the three men headed for DeSimone’s mother’s house for a shovel where she fixed them food. After leaving, and with Devino in the trunk, the men traveled to a desolate area to bury Devino. Along the way they had to stop after hearing Devino rustling about in the trunk. They popped the trunk and beat him with the shovel and tire iron until they were sure he was dead. 

On November 3, 1972, Hill and Burke were sentenced to ten years in prison due to an extortion charge from the year before while the men were vacationing in Florida. Hill was sent to the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg were he was imprisoned with Paul Vario, who was serving a two and a half year sentence for tax evasion, and several Gotti crew members serving various sentences. It was Lewisburg where Hill met a man from Pittsburgh who, for a fee, taught Hill how to smuggle drugs into the prison. On July 12, 1978, Hill was released from prison. The next day he was in Pittsburgh to expand his drug business on the outside.

A few months after Hill was released from prison, a Lucchese family associate approached Burke about a possible large score worth millions. Burke assembled a team of men to investigate the opportunity. Hill helped with the logistics but did not have a hand in the actual theft. On Monday, December 11, 1978, Burkes crew, notably called the Robert’s Lounge crew pulled off the largest heist in American history up to that point. It was dubbed, the Lufthansa Heist.

Several days later, the FBI were tipped the heist was executed by the Robert’s Lounge crew. They began tailing many of the men involved including Hill and Burke. When others in the crew started spending the money Burke became paranoid and began cutting ties. In a few short months, 12 men were missing or murdered, and five had become informants.

As men continued to disappear Hill became concerned he too might be killed by Burke. Hill also believed Vario had delivered up DeSimone to the Gambino family as retribution for the Billy Bats murder and for trying to take rape Karen, Hill’s wife, whom was having an affair with Vario while Hill was imprisoned. When Hill was arrested for drug trafficking on April 27, 1980 the FBI played a wire tap featuring Burke stating to Vario that he (Hill) “needed to be whacked”. Within a few days Hill was released on bail. He met with Burke at a familiar restaurant where they discussed his case and a few opportunities for Hill to raise money for his defense. One such opportunity was to travel with Burke to Florida to carry out a contract killing. Hill had never been asked to kill for Vario and knew he would not come home alive. The FBI caught wind of there travel plans and took Hill off the streets. On May 27, 1980 Hill signed an agreement to become an informant against Vario and Burke.

 

With his testimony Hill helped the government convict several Mafioso including Jimmy Burke who was given life in prison for murder. He died in prison from cancer on April 13 1996. He was 64 years old. Vario was convicted of helping Hill get a no-show job that helped him get paroled from prison early and was also convicted of extortion and sentenced to ten years. He died in prison on November 22, 1988 at the age 73.

Henry Hill 2011

After testifying Hill, his wife Karen, and their two children were placed in the witness protection program. He and Karen divorced in 1989 and due to several violations were expelled from the program in the early 1990’s.

Hill kept a low profile until his arrest for drug paraphernalia charges in March 2005. From that point, with all the men he crossed dead, Hill didn’t shy away from public. He appeared on the Howard Sterns show, had book signings with other ex Mafioso, and sold his artwork on Ebay. In February he was placed in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Hill died on June 12, 2012 in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack in May.

The Powerful Lucchese Family

The Lucchese crime family is an organized crime family based out of New York that is a part of the Mafia or Cosa Nostra. They are one of the “Five Families” and have a seat on the mafia’s Commission. They originated in the early 1920’s and beside the Castellammarese War, maintained a low profile under reign of mafia bosses Tommy Gagliano, and their name sake Tommy “Three Finger” Lucchese.

 In the 1950’s and 1960’s Lucchese turned the family into one of the most powerful families in New York. He worked closely with Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino and earned a seat on the Commission. Lucchese died of natural causes in 1967 and control of the family went to Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo. Corallo was very secretive and held the title of boss for many years. He was tried and convicted in the famous Commission case in 1986.

Early History

Since its inception and particularly during the Gagliano and Lucchese rule, the Lucchese family was known as one of the most peaceful of crime families. That all changed when Corallo was sent to prison and placed Vittoria “Vic” Amuso in charge of the family. Amusa promoted Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso to underboss and together, the two led one of the bloodiest reigns in Mafia history. Fearing for their lives, many Lucchese associates turned informant including the highest ranking mobster in years Alphonse “Little Al” D’Arco the acting boss of the Lucchese family in 1991. Almost the entire hierarchy of the Lucchese family was tried and sent to prison on his testimony. It nearly brought the Lucchese family down.

The Lucchese family has history that dates before World War I to the Morello gang in East Harlem. Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, a previous member of the Morello gang started his own gang during the Mafia-Cammora War but kept a low profile choosing to expand his activities instead of joining the war.

During prohibition after years of controlling the ice business in the Bronx, Gaetano became a powerful force. He aligned his gang with Joseph Masseria, who at the time was the most powerful mafia boss in New York. They worked together during the Castellammarese War when Masseria was fighting against Maranzano but when Masseria started demanding tributes, Reina considered changes sides to Maranzano. When Masseria learned of Reina’s possible betrayal, he hired Vito Genovese to assassinate Reina. On Feb 26, 1930 Reina was shot and killed.

Tommy Lucchese

Maranzano won the war in 1931 after Masseria was murdered. From that point on Maranzano declared himself the boss of bosses and began to reorganize the American Mafia into 24 different organizations that would be known as “Families”. He also reorganized the gangs of New York into “Five Families” that were headed by Maranzano, Joseph Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, Lucky Luciano, and Vincent Mangano. Gagliano received the old Reina gang with Tommy Lucchese as his under boss or second in charge.

The reorganization was welcomed by many of the families. They were in need of organization to lessen the deadly conflicts taking place on a weekly basis. However, when Maranzano declared himself the boss of all bosses, a Lucky Luciano associate presumably under the orders of Luciano murdered Maranzano in his office.

With Luciano now the most powerful mobster in New York and the United States, he built on Maranzano’s restructuring and formed a ruling body in place of the Boss of Bosses position. His ruling panel (The Commission) had a seat for many of the mafia families across the U.S. including the Five Families as the most powerful. The Commission was built to resolve all families’ disputes. Any high ranking assassinations or contracts for assassination had to be voted on and approved by the commission before it could be carried out. The first members included the Luciano family boss Lucky Luciano, Mangano family boss Vincent Mangano, Gagliano family boss, Tommy Gagliano, Profaci boss, Joseph Profaci, Chicago Outfit boss, Al Capone, and Bonanno boss Joseph Bonanno.

Although he kept a very low profile, Tommy Gagliano ran the family as boss with Tommy Lucchese as his underboss until Gagliano’s death in 1951. Upon his death Tommy Lucchese took over the family and renamed it the Lucchese Family. He appointed Stefano LaSalle as his underboss. Lucchese’s claim to fame during his reign was controlling the Teamsters Unions, and in large part the importing and exporting of garments into New York. With each import and export, Lucchese received a cut. He continued to operate as Gagliano did keeping a low profile. By 1962 with Luciano deported, Lucchese and new Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino had control of the Commission. The Lucchese family was one of the strongest families in the United States. At the time of Lucchese’s death from a brain tumor in July 1967 the Lucchese family had over 200 made members and thousands of associates.

In 1937 heroin labs were discovered in Marseille, France. They were run by a French mafia who had it in

Carmine Trumanti

mind to spread the drug around the globe. By the 1960’s, heroin was pouring into the United States and new acting boss replacing Lucchese, Carmine “Mr. Gribbs” Tramunti was part of the leadership that smuggled the drug in. By 1969, France was supplying 80-90 percent of the heroin smuggled into the United States according to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Tramunti was making millions each year and the FBI noticed. He was eventually convicted of financing the import of heroin in a famous trial dubbed the French Connection but not before 70 million dollars worth of seized heroin was stolen from the evidence room of the NYPD and replaced with flour.

After Tramunti’s conviction, Anthony Corallo took over as boss of the Lucchese family. Corallo was an intelligent and private businessman. He much like Gambino family boss John Gotti Sr. managed to stay out of prison most of his life. He dodged convictions so many times; he earned the name “Tony Ducks.”   Corallo didn’t speak about business in public but on a car phone owned by his bodyguard and chauffer. He feared the FBI would be listening and instead drove around the city and conducted meetings. The FBI, aware of Corallo’s tactics finally managed to sneak a bug into the Jaguar and taped many of his conversations where Corallo spoke about loan sharking, illegal gambling, and drug trafficking. Corallo was arrested along with the bosses of the other five families and put on trial. The trial would become legendary as the Mafia Commission Trial. He was convicted on January 13, 1987 and sentenced to 100 years in prison, where he died in 2000.

 

Vittorio Amuso replaced Corallo as boss of the family in 1987. Over the next three years, Amuso and his underboss, Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso led one of the most violent reigns in mafia history. Their biggest rival was Gambino family boss John Gotti. Upset that Gotti assassinated previous Gambino boss Paul Castellano, Amuso and Casso ordered a hit on Gotti. On April 13th1986, a car bomb planted on Gotti’s car killed Gambino underboss Frank DeCicco but missed Gotti.

Amuso didn’t stop his murderous attempts on rivals. When the Jersey faction of the Lucchese family refused to give 50% of their profits up to Amuso as tribute, he ordered the entire group killed. After being summoned to a meeting in Buffalo, the Jersey crew went into hiding.

Having to flee from the government themselves in 1990, Amuso and Casso appointed Alphonse “Little Al” D’Arco as acting boss of the family. Over the next few years the two men ordered the deaths of several men. In some situations they succeeded but many of the hits were botched. Several members turned informant fearing for their lives bringing further pressure on the family.

The planned executions hit a boiling point when D’Arco was set to be killed at Manhattan hotel. D’Arco saw a gunman hide a gun in his belt and walk into the bathroom of the lobby. Realizing this it was a set-up, D’Arco turned himself into authorities becoming the first boss of a New York crime family to turn informant.

Amuso continued to run the family from prison. He placed several men in charge over the years and with their help managed to increase profits for the Lucchese family to several hundred million per year.

In 2006, former underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso still serving his life sentence provided information to the FBI that revealed two New York City police detectives acted as mafia hitmen in the 1980s and early 1990s. Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa participated in eight murders from 1986 and 1990 receiving $375,000 in bribes and payments from Casso. In 2006 both retired detectives were sentenced to life in prison.

Amuso remained boss from prison until 2012. It’s unclear how much influence he had as he appointed a three man ruling panel in 2003 that directed much of the family business. It has been reported that Steven Crea, former Lucchese underboss recently paroled from prison is the new boss of the family. The Lucchese family is reported to have 100 made members making it the third smallest of the five families in New York.

Tommy Gagliano – The Quiet Don

Tommaso “Tommy” Gagliano was an early leader of the Lucchese crime family in New York City, a low-key don who believed in secrets and knew how to keep them. Little is known about his reign at the top of one of the nation’s most powerful criminal organizations, and that’s exactly the way he would have wanted it.

Tommaso Gagliano was born May 17, 1884, in the village of Corleone, Sicily, famous for its Mafiosi, local and American. In 1905 he immigrated to New York, where he settled in East Harlem and found work in a feed store.

He may have joined the criminal underworld as an associate of the crime family then headed by Giuseppe “the Clutch Hand” Morello, now known as the Genovese family. The Morello family was based in East Harlem.

 

But at some point, Gagliano moved his interests to the Bronx. He set himself up with his brother-in-law in the lathing in hoisting business, at least as a front, and began working for the family headed by Bronx-based gangster Gaetano “Tommy” Reina.

Reina, like Gagliano, hailed from Corleone, and was about the same age. He ran ice box distribution and most criminal enterprises in the Bronx. His gang also had operations in East Harlem, and by the late 1920s the Reina and Morello families were enemies.

By then, the entire New York mob was either at war or on the verge of it. Two men, Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, were each attempting to take control of the

Joe Masseria

Joe “The Boss” Masseria

underworld, each with the support of various street gangs and Mafia contingents. Masseria was the stronger of the two, and the closer to achieving that goal.

But Maranzano had the backing of powerful interests in Sicily, and many of the younger, less hidebound gangsters, such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano, felt he was the choice most likely to benefit their interests. The Castellammarese War, as it was called, was long and bloody.

Reina sided with Masseria, at first. But Masseria kept demanding more money from his ally, until Reina decided to switch sides.

Masseria was infuriated when he learned of Reina’s plans, and ordered his death. In February 1930, Reina was shot dead while leaving the home of his mistress (or his aunt, depending on the source). The gunman was allegedly Vito Genovese, himself a future boss.

 

With Reina gone, Masseria installed Joe Pinzolo as puppet head of the Reina family. But other members of the family, including Gagliano and Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese, despised Pinzolo. The new boss was shot and killed later that year by unknown gunmen, and Masseria put Gagliano in charge.

Many of the mobsters who pledged support to Masseria had in fact flipped and were now secretly supporting Maranzano. This included Luciano, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and, possibly, Gagliano and Lucchese.

In the spring of 1931, Masseria was murdered by his own men at a small Italian restaurant on Coney Island. The killers, including Luciano, had secured a promise from Maranzano that they would maintain their own power if they helped him.

With his rival out of the way, Maranzano proceeded to divvy up the Mafia into its modern structure. Existing gangs were organized into five criminal “families” in New York City and 19 families elsewhere in the United States.

At the head of each of these families, a boss was appointed: Maranzano at the head of his own family (now the Bonanno family), Joseph Profaci (now the Colombo family), Luciano (now the Genovese family), Vincent Mangano (now the Gambino family) and Gagliano.

 

Maranzano also gave himself a bit of extra power, taking the new title capo di tutti capi, or “boss of bosses.” But many of his fellow Mafiosi were displeased with his leadership. He was seen as greedy, power hungry and stuck in his old-school Sicilian ways.

In September 1931, Maranzano was gunned down in his office after he tried to put together a hit on Luciano and his men. The murder left the heads of the five families operating with a great deal of independence, with the newly formed Commission there to mediate disputes between them.

Luciano took the “boss of bosses” position, but he never used it to seize power in the way Maranzano had. Instead, the bosses, including Gagliano, were left to their own devices. Gagliano appointed Lucchese his underboss and proceeded to run his organization from the shadows.

Like the most successful dons, Gagliano always kept a low profile. Not much is known about his life after he took over the family, except that he sat on the Commission during its most critical early period and stayed there for 20 years without interruption by law enforcement.

 

Gagliano also seems to have avoided the other snakes in the grass through a long career. This is a rather remarkable achievement considering the allegiances, counter-allegiances, enmities and backstabbing that marked the early Commission.

So secretive was Tommy Gagliano that no one seems to know for sure when exactly he died. It was either 1951 or 1953, and Lucchese claimed during Senate hearings that it was February 16, 1951. But there’s no evidence to back this up, and many historians favor 1953.

One theory has it that Gagliano stepped down in 1951 and handed the reins to Lucchese, then died two years later. The arrangement was kept secret, the theory goes, in order to keep the feds away.

In any event, Lucchese took over the Gagliano family and put his permanent stamp on it. Gagliano is remembered today (when he’s remembered at all) as a faceless boss from the early years, but that may be his greatest achievement.

The Mafia is, after all, a secret society, and the less they know about you, generally speaking, the better. The mobsters with big mouths tend to end up in prison or pieces, while the ones who know how to cover their tracks get the job done.

Gagliano’s remains are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Paul “Big Paulie” Vario – Goodfella’s Paul Cicero

Paul “Big Paulie” Vario was born on July 9, 1914 and lived in Brooklyn New York. He had four brothers, Vito, Salvatore, Thomas, and Leonard. As a youngster, Vario was in trouble with law enforcement often. In 1925 at the age of 12 he was sent away for seven months for truancy. He had several more convictions through his lifetime.

As a young man Vario joined the Lucchese crime family and worked his way up the ranks taking part in violent crimes such as extortion, hijacking, bookmaking, and numbers games to name a few. He and his brothers also owned several legitimate businesses including a flower shop, cab stand (Euclid Avenue Cab Co) and restaurant (Presto Pizzeria). Vario’s brother, Vito “Tuddy” Vario ran the pizzeria and the cab stand where most their business was conducted.

This cab stand sat directly across the street from the late Henry Hill. As a young man Hill would run errands for

Paul Sorvino as Paul Cicero in Goodfella’s

Vario and his crew. In return, Vario paid him well and introduced him to other well known gangsters such as Tommy DeSimone, and an Irish mobster named James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. All four were portrayed in the 1990’s hit movie Goodfella’s, with actor Paul Sorvino playing Vario.

In the 1950’s Vario had his own crew in the Lucchese family. At the time his crew was thought to be the most lucrative crew in thefamily with the bulk of their money coming from hijacking trucks leaving JFK Airport. 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. Another testament to his power was believed that any form of gambling that was conducted in the East New York section of Brooklyn had to be approved by Vario and his crew. Vario also personally received a percentage of the earnings, and is said to have earned an estimated $25,000 per day.            As capo Vario maintained a low profile. The FBI was had been cracking down for years on the order of Hoover and Robert Kennedy, and he learned it was best to stay hidden. Because of this he rarely spoke on the phone instead giving orders in person to his underlings to carry out or deliver.

In the early 1970’s Vario was “membership director” of Joe Colombo’s Italian American Civil Rights League. After Colombo started attracting too much attention by the FBI, Vario stepped down as director but the damage was done. The FBI had him on their radar and began tracking him closely. As a result of their surveillance, Vario was indicted but refused to cooperate. After being found guilty of contempt he was sentenced to three years in prison. He served his time with Hill who was serving a ten year sentence for attempted murder. Vario served a little over a year and was freed.

Hill and Vario were reported very close. While Hill was still imprisoned Vario had an affair with Hill’s wife, Karen. During this time they became very close. When Tommy DeSimone tried to rape Karen, Vario called the Gambino family and told them DeSimone was responsible for killing two of their men. The Gambino’s killed DeSimone in January 1979.

In 1978 Vario approved of Burke’s plan to steal millions of dollars from Lufthansa Airport which increased his wealth. According to Hill, he once showed him a vault that supposedly contained over one million dollars in cash.

In 1980 Hill turned government witness after fearing Burke and Vario would murder him for drug dealing without permission and his involvement in the Lufthansa Heist. Burke had already taken care of several others involved in the theft, and Hill feared he was next.        Due to Hills testimonies, Vario was found guilty in 1984 for defrauding the Government by helping Hill get out of prison early. A few years later he was sentenced to six years for extortion largely based on Hill’s testimony. At this time, Vario was in bad health, he died on May 3, 1988 at the age of seventy-three from lung cancer while incarcerated at Fort Worth Federal Prison in Texas.


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