Paul Cicero
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Biography for
Paul Cicero (Character)
from Goodfellas (1990)

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Paul Vario (July 9, 1914 November 22, 1988) was a member of the U.S. Italian Mafia and a Caporegime in the Lucchese Family. Some reports say that he also was the Underboss of the Luccheses in the 1970s but was either demoted or resigned. Vario is a maternal cousin of Colombo crime family consigliere John Oddo and his brother, mobster Steven 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 of the official leader. Under the rule of Corallo the Underboss rank went to Salvatore "Tom Mix" Santoro.

Vario lived all his life in New York City and was believed to be involved in loansharking and union 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'. Due to 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 Tuddy ran the cabstand and Presto Pizzeria. The Vario family's earnings from various rackets and businesses were estimated to be $25,000 a week. Vario and his brothers, along with their criminal associates, operated in Brownsville. Both the cabstand and pizzeria were located in close proximity on Euclid Avenue and the cabstand was the Euclid Avenue Taxicab and Limousine Service.

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. Another show of his paranoia was when Lenny Vario met a girl, named Veralynn, it was at the same double date that Hill met his soon to be girlfriend, Linda. According to Hill, Paul insisted that the two women were FBI and was nervous and eager to leave when introduced to them. 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 six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds, but his narrow bone structure gave the appearance that he weighed even more than that. Former associates likened him to a sumo wrestler. A popular legend holds that Vario would often eat without a fork, instead holding the plate up to his face and shoving his mouth over the food.

In the early 1970s Paul was a Membership Director for mob boss Joe Colombo's Italian-American Anti-Defamation 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 and fine food. Hill was also serving a sentence at the Lewisburg facility. Additionally, infamous Lucchese soldier John Dioguardi (Johnny Dio) was serving time and according to Hill acted as a cook for Vario and others.

Following Vario's release from prison in 1975, it was quite clear that he would not return to previous underboss slot for the Lucchese crime family, as it was apparent that Anthony Corallo had made his intentions of having Salvatore "Tom Mix" Santoro fill the role.

According to Hill, Vario forbid those closest to him to engage in narcotics trafficking (although while in prison Hill openly dealt narcotics with Vario's blessings). During the first few years of his release, Vario maintained his strong ties to the notorious Lucchese family capo and well-known dope trafficker Joseph "Joe Beck" DiPalmero. Due to their surveillance, the FBI believed that Vario had financed at least one large scale cocaine shipment with the assistance of DiPalermo. The shipment involved 30 tons of the narcotic that was seized in the borough of Queens following a tipoff to the DEA. At the time the estimated value was $1.5 million USD. Vario's misfortune was soon forgotten when he approved of the Lufthansa Heist in 1978 and collected a handsome tribute payment.

Vario was an extremely wealthy man. He once showed Henry Hill a vault claiming it held one million dollars in cash.

Amongst Vario's associates were Jimmy Burke and 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. When Burke's protege Tommy DeSimone attempted to rape Karen Hill, Vario held a sit-down with members of the Gambino family and revealed to them that DeSimone was responsible for the murders of two of their members, prompting them to murder DeSimone. Vario was imprisoned in 1984, largely because of the testimony of Hill.

Vario was known to be 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 assaulted her for telling his wife that the two were having an affair. The barmaid's collar bone was broken.

He died while incarcerated at the Ft. Worth federal prison located in Tarrant County, Texas on November 22, 1988, aged seventy-four. His body is buried at St. John's Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Paul had a wife, Phyliss and three sons, Peter, Paul, Jr., and 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 whilst torching property in connection with a union. Little is known about his other son, Peter. Vario adored Phyliss and was once so enraged that a maitre 'd spilt wine over her that he sent his entire 'crew' to the restaurant, where they assaulted the staff.

Paulie also had four brothers; Vito 'Tuddy' Vario (1928-1988), Salvatore Vario (1919-1976), Leonard Vario (1909-1981), and Thomas Vario (1917-1984). 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.

In the 1990 film Goodfellas, chronicling Henry Hill's life in the Mafia, Vario is featured as a major character. He is called "Paul Cicero" instead and portrayed by Paul Sorvino. In an ironic twist, Vario was convinced to go see director Martin Scorsese's 1973 film Mean Streets. Vario was so impressed by the film that he implored his associates to also see the movie.

In the 2001 film for TV, The Big Heist, following the events of the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, Vario was played by actor Gino Marrocco.


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