Title: Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family Author: Nicholas Pileggi Historical Event Depicted: The Lufthansa Heist The robbery of Air France cargo terminal at JFK International Airport, at the time, the biggest heist in America’s history; worth about six million dollars. Main Characters: Henry Hill- The main character of the book, of Irish descent, but accepted into the Lucchese crime family, an Italian mob. Henry is drawn to the life of crime around the age of 12, and drops out of school to become a gangster. Hill earns the respect of the Mafia after he doesn’t rat on them and takes the fall.
After he is released, Hill joins the army in hopes to please his father, but continues to maintain contact with Vario. He is eventually discharged for hustling. Henry plays a key role in the Lufthansa Heist. Henry matures and becomes of master of crime; he is thriving in the business until he does cocaine, his ultimate downfall. Henry gets addicted to cocaine and his whole life falls apart; failure after failure after failure. Hill is arrested for his part in the Lufthansa heist but rats on his crew in return for exemption.
Jimmy Burke- “Jimmy the Gent” was the mastermind of most heists; he was an American gangster of the Lucchese crime family associate; who is believed to have organized the Lufthansa heist in 1978. He was also accused of murder(s) many of those involved in the months following. He is finally convicted after Henry Hill testifies against him. Tommy “Two-Gun Tommy” DeSimone- was an Italian-American gangster and an associate of the Lucchese crime family in New York Loose. He had loose grip on reality, thought nothing of killing men, and played a major role in the Lufthansa heist.
He killed at least a dozen men, probably more, and even killed a close friend for an honest mistake. Tommy goes absolutely insane and kills Billy Bats forcing him to live on the run, until he is killed by the Gambino crime family. Karen Hill- Henry’s wife, born into an upper class Jewish family, married Hill at a young age and two children together. She was a good loyal mother and wife, sometimes impressed by and aiding Henry in his illegal antics. Split up with hill because he cheated on her but got back together.
Paul Vario- Was a capo regime of a crew in the Lucchese crime family. In the 1970s Vario held the position of consigliore in the family but later resigned. Vario was a made man and brought Hill into his family. He cut off all ties to Hill after Hill gets involved with drugs In 1980, longtime friend/associate, Henry Hill became a government witness and testified against Vario and members of his crew. The film Goodfellas is based on Hill’s life inside Vario’s crew. A portly older made man and brings Henry into the life of organized crime.
Billy Bats- A made man in the Gambino crime family. After constantly insulting Tommy, asking “if he still shined shoes,” he killed him along with the help of Burke and Hill, hiding him in his trunk and later burying him. Frenchy is an airport worker who tips Jimmy off to the Air-France heist. He is constantly undermining the airport, giving information about shipments to Jimmy often for a cut in the loot, because he is underpaid and needs to support his wife. Martin Krugman- Lufthansa worker who helps the crew pull off the heist by undermining the trust of the airport.
Tuddy Vario- Paul’s brother, also involved in crime, was injured in Vietnam; he needed a runner which was Henry’s first job as Henry lived across the street from Tuddy’s business. Plot Summary: The story begins in Brooklyn, New York with Henry a young man inspired by all of the gangsters he sees at “Tuddy” Vario’s carport. Henry, the son of a hardworking Irishman, is employed at Tuddy’s shop and soon promoted from doing menial tasks to Tuddy’s personal runner. Through this job Henry meets Paul Vario, who instantly see’s Henry’s potential. Hill drops out of school and befriends Tommy, a neighborhood kid who desired the same life as Henry.
Hill earns much respect, after he is sent to jail at a young age, taking the fall for Vario. After he is released he joins the army in hopes to please his father, but is soon discharged. In late 1967, Henry gets his first taste of the big time scores. It was the heist of Air-France and this event solidified everything. Henry believed he would bask in the glory of his accomplishment. Hill meets Karen soon after this and is instantly attracted. After a man harms Karen, Henry drives straight to his house and beats him down delivering repeated pistol-whips, telling him to leave Karen alone or next time he and his family is dead.
Karen is terrified but turned on by the whole ordeal. Henry and Karen got married but remain living in Karen’s parents’ house. Karen’s family didn’t like Hill, they though he didn’t treat her right. Next summer Tommy and Jimmy kill Billy Bats, a made man in the Gambino crime family bringing Henry to help clean it up. They didn’t have clearance for the kill from the mobs, so this offense was punishable by death and would ultimately start a war, so they had to hide the body. They bury the body upstate and hope to be done with it.
Six months after burying Billy, Jimmy hears that the burial site is being built upon, forcing them to exhume the body. Shortly after Henry finds a mistress, Karen discovers his affair and pulls out a gun of Hill, where he leaves and moves in with the mistress. Paul needs a job in Florida done and sends the usual crew to Florida to collect from an indebted man. After beating the man they are successful in getting the money but are arrested on charges of assault. Henry is sent to a prison in New York but is then transferred to minimal security prison in rural Pennsylvania.
From the inside Henry begins selling drugs, something Paul told him to never get involved with, to make money for the family. This is where Hill starts his decline. Very shortly after his release the crew pulls off the Lufthansa heist netting million dollars. This pleases Paul who receives a cut but tells Henry to stop with the drug trade. Henry lies and says he has but it is already too late, Hill is stuck in the drug life. Jimmy, goes crazy, and begins killing everyone that was a part of the heist until it is down to Jimmy, Tommy, and Henry.
Jimmy doesn’t kill Tommy but their past does catch up to Tommy and Jimmy is finally murdered for the murder of Billy Bats, they told Tommy he was being “made” but instead he was killed. Henry is deep in the clutches of cocaine and is a nervous wreck. He is eventually caught and arrested by narcotics. During the pre-trial time Henry is given 3,200 dollars by Paul and that is the end of their relationship. Henry Hill rats on everyone; in return, he receives an exemption. From there Henry is placed into the witness protection.