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.


  1. Andrew Ward says:

    Just a note to ask if anyone knows anything about Frankie Rozzo, who served time for murder before going into the loansharking business, I think as a member of the Gambino family. His father founded the Rozzo fish company in the Fulton Fish Market, which was heavily infiltrated by the Cosa Nostra. Frankie’s son of the same name pioneered fly-by-night gay bars in the 1970s, and had a hand in a gay resort in the Catskills. The story goes that the son tried to kill someone with a chainsaw, but unfortunately his victim survived, and Frankie Jr. spent the rest of his brief life in prison, where he died of AIDS. His father owned several prominent businesses, including the famous White Horse Tavern, but fell victim to a loan shark’s worst enemy: Alzheimers. Unable to collect interest on his unwritten loans, he lost his money as well as various family members’ before entirely losing his marbles and passing away. If anyone has any more information about Frankie Rozzo Sr. and Jr., I would be much obliged if they would share it.

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