HOW I SAVED A MOVIE: Goodfellas’ Henry Hill’s Philly Connection

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RAY LIOTTA, left, played real-life mobster Henry Hill, right, in famous thriller Goodfellas.

BY GREGORY BUCCERONI, Coordinator, Transit Crime Watch Victim Services/ The national press recently carried a legendary New York mobster’s obituary. Henry Hill died at the age of 69 peaceably at his home near Hollywood, Cal. He had “business” roots here in Philadelphia and that’s how I got to know him.

The public learned about Hill from his notoriety starting in 1980 as a federal informer on the mob. But it was his testimony and lifestyle that brought to the viewing public a different face of the mafia as his life became the basis for the movie Goodfellas. He managed to escape a violent end by living off that fame. He was indeed a lucky “fella”.

I knew him well enough to the point where I could have been one of the guys who were commissioned to rub him out in a gang hit long before. Back in 1979, Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke (another wise guy featured in the movie) introduced me to Chucky Smith, who managed the Apollo XXX adult-entertainment center located near 13th & Market Streets, better known as The Family Theatre. The two were often in Philadelphia, making mob-related business pit stops in the Delaware Valley area.

Smith was a mob associate of the Gambino crime family’s Philadelphia-based adult-porn businesses operated by Tony Trombetta. Chucky Smith collaborated with Burke and Gambino crime family associate Richie Kuklinski in fencing stolen property, pornographic material, illegal drug sales, illegal gun sales and murder.

Following Hill’s arrest by the Feds in 1980, Burke was unsure if Hill was cooperating with the Feds. Burke and Smith met with me at the Apollo XXX Theatre and then later at the Boathouse at FDR  Park. They suggested I take some of my Kensington buddies to Brooklyn to assist Burke in whacking out Hill at a Brooklyn Heights mob-run grocery store which fenced stolen Betamax machines for quick cash. They knew Hill and I had criminally associated several times in the past and I wasn’t considered a threat to him.

The plan was for me to lure Hill to this grocery store; then Burke would have others there to wipe out Hill in typical mob-hit fashion.

Luckily for me, I decided to pass on the info to a friend of my family, Billy Veasey, who was also a mob associate. He was older than I, and a confidant. I told him of my impending trip. He said, “No way! On your way home they would whack you out. You were the connection that could incriminate them.”

Shortly thereafter, Hill disappeared into the witness-protection system; Burke was found guilty of mob-related crimes and sent to prison.

If Billy Veasey hadn’t talked me out of setting up Hill to be whacked in Brooklyn, Burke would have succeeded in murdering Hill and there would have been no successful federal trial, no mob books written and definitely no movie named Goodfellas. The Henry Hill role as a Lucchese Crime Family associate in this movie would never have been.

Isn’t it ironic how one simple choice in not doing something creates a chain of events that alters history? There but for the grace of God, I would have been a mob victim instead of the good-citizen crime-fighter I am today.

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