Paul Vario was born in New York on July 10th, 1914. He first got involved with the mob during the mid 1920s, quickly developing a reputation as a ruthless leader that would take down anyone betraying him without hesitation. He was involved in a massive variety of crimes, including murder, robbery, illegal gambling, and selling stolen goods. The federal prosecutors that put him in prison said it all by calling him "one of the most violent and dangerous career criminals in the city of New York."
Paul, or "Paulie" as his friends called him, was known for his size. He was about six feet tall and weighed close to 250 pounds over the majority of his life. His appearance resembled that of a sumo wrestler, with jowls hanging below his chin, likening his appearance to that of a ferocious bulldog. He moved slowly through life because he felt that he didn't have to move quick for anyone and figured things would bend to his will, one way or another. His speaking often consisted of short grunt-like responses.
Paulie owned a flower shop at Fulton Avenue in New York as well as a number of other businesses, including an auto junkyard, and bar-restaurant, where he and his cronies liked to hang out. At the bar, men asked Paulie for help and many deals were made, even severe punishments. Paulie lived with his wife Phyllis and three sons: Paul Jr., Peter, and Lenny.
Paulie was considered to be a glutton by many who witnessed his eating habits. He would go out to fancy restaurants and consume entire meals by simply tipping back the bowl or plate and eating everything at once. Despite his eating habits, his cooking skills were well known and his pasta fagiole was renowned by many as the best in New York City.
Paulie was also well known for his paranoia. He was very careful about putting his name on things and making phone calls. He never used private telephones, only public pay phones on the street. Even his boat docked in Sheepshead Bay had no name. He didn't like to speak out loud in public about dealings, instead always whispering.
At the height of Paulie's career, he was raking in $25,000 a day in earnings from his illegal operations. He had a massive network of gambling, bookmakers, loan sharks and numbers operators throughout NYC and beyond. Paul Vario was also the "owner" of the Kennedy Airport and conducted all truck hijacking operations there with his underling - James Burke.
Paulie was very good at keeping the other families from going to war with his outfit. He had a diplomatic skill that allowed him to run his businesses without too much trouble and settle differences before they erupted into war. His diplomatic skills also assisted him in union corruption operations where his crew extorted millions of dollars every year from businesses that did not want union strikes to lose them their place in the market. When things got too hot, witnesses disappeared and people with outstanding loans received "encouragement".
In 1972, Paulie was put in prison for three years after the police bugged his headquarters and gathered 54,000 photos in addition to hours and hours of film.
After his release, Paulie was very unhappy to find out that he had been passed over to replace Lucchese as the head of the crime family. Out of prison, he found that a number of his businesses had been ruined and he organized a large drug shipment worth 1.5 million dollars from Colombia. However, an informant tipped off the DEA and the entire load was seized in Queens (30 tons of narcotics), making Paulie very furious.
After the tip off, Paulie had James Burke organize the famous Lufthansa Heist from the Kennedy Airport, netting over eight million dollars for the crew. Paulie was obviously very happy and returned to business as usual, until his former friend, Henry Hill, eventually testified against him in court, putting Paulie away for life. Paulie was sent to Fort Worth Prison and stayed there until his death in 1988 at the age of 73.
Paul Vario was convinced to see Martin Scorsese's film "Mean Streets" at one time and absolutely loved it. He made his entire crew go to see the film, telling them that it was a film about their life. Paul Vario was immortalized in Scorsese's "Goodfellas" by Paul Sorvino.