Paul Vario Biography

Paul Frank ‘Paulie’ Vario, an American mobster, was the commanding figure behind the infamous ‘Vario Crew’ for the Lucchese crime family for nearly thirty years. Notorious for orchestrating the audacious Lufthansa Heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1978, Vario and his crew operated with relative ease, thanks to his influence over labor unions. Alongside his illegal activities, Vario maintained a network of legitimate businesses, including a chop shop, to conceal his illicit operations. Additionally, Vario and his crew were involved in bookmaking, illegal casinos, and exerted control over local gangs in Brooklyn’s East New York section. Renowned filmmaker Martin Charles Scorsese immortalized Vario’s story in the film ‘Goodfellas,’ based on the testimony of one of his associates, Henry Hill Jr., who revealed crucial information about Vario and the Lucchese crime family.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 73
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Vita
    • Siblings: Leonard Vario, Salvatore Vario, Thomas Vario, Vito Vario
    • Children: Leonard Vario, Peter Vario
  • Born Country: United States
  • Gangsters
  • American Men
  • Height: 1.83 m
  • Died on: May 3, 1988
  • Place of death: Fort Worth, Texas, United States

Childhood & Early Life

Paul Vario was born on July 9, 1914, in New York City, New York. He grew up with four brothers, Vito, Salvatore, Leonard, and Thomas. At a very early age, Vario got involved in various petty crimes. He was sent to juvenile detention for seven months after he was charged with truancy.

A Life of Crime

Paul Vario formed the “Vario Crew” along with his three associates, Thomas DeSimone, Jimmy Burke, and Henry Hill. The Vario Crew primarily operated near the JFK International Airport, their favorite hunting ground. Vario and his crew used to rob the cargo at the airport. Vario’s stronghold over the labor unions meant the authority failed over and over again to stop them.

Vario had control over the entire gambling business of the East New York section of Brooklyn. He ran casinos, illegal gambling businesses, as well as bookmaking in the city and controlled many of the gangs. Each small gang had to pay Vario and his crew a ‘protection’ money to keep their business going in the locality. Vario also established a junkyard business which used to deal with a chop shop operated near his office. Although it was a legitimate business on paper, Vario used it to run his illegal businesses as well.

Legal Troubles

Vario grabbed the attention of federal law enforcement and was put under surveillance in the early 1970s. His trailer, which he used as his office for the junkyard business, was tapped by the FBI. The evidence gathered against him was enough to lock him up in jail for a few years. He was arrested on charges of insurance fraud and tampering with a witness after a dramatic car chase around Brooklyn. Vario was jailed for a few months in early 1973.

In April 1973, Vario was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to six years in federal prison. However, he was released in 1975. Vario later worked with drug trafficker Joseph “Joe Beck” DiPalmero and ordered a cocaine shipment worth $1.5 million. He was under surveillance by the FBI and was nabbed after the DEA tipped them off about the shipment.

Involvement in the Lufthansa Heist

Paul Vario was not directly involved in the infamous Lufthansa Heist, in which the mastermind Jimmy Burke successfully planned the robbery of more than $5 million in cash and jewelry from the John F. Kennedy International Airport. However, upon being approached by the heist crew, Vario sent his own crew to help them carry out the plan.

Family & Personal Life

Paul Vario was notorious for being ill-tempered and was of a gigantic stature. He had three sons, Peter, Paul Jr., and Leonard, with his first wife Vita. He was later married to a woman named Phyllis and was also involved with a number of other women. Vario was good friends with Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke. When Hill became an FBI informant, he testified against Vario and the Lucchese crime family. The majority of Vario’s underground businesses and major crimes came to light once Hill testified against him.

Vario died on May 3, 1988, of respiratory arrest while serving his sentence at Fort Worth Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

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