Henry Hill, 37, long associated with organized crime, former resident of Rockville Centre, Long Island. He was instrumental in planning the $5.85 million theft of cash and jewels—the largest cash robbery in U.S. history—from the Lufthansa cargo terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport on Dec. 11, 1978. Hill's court-appointed lawyer, Robert Simels of New York, says the Lufthansa job probably couldn't have been pulled off without Hill. The theft began at 3:05 a.m. when six bandits with ski masks and guns moved in, aided by three inside men and a "coach." Thus far no major crime figure has been indicted in the case. Hill was arrested on April 28, 1980 by Nassau County, Long Island police, on 17 drug conspiracy charges. In an effort to save his life (eight people who had or were believed to have knowledge of the Lufthansa job have been killed), Hill joined the Federal Witness Program and last May became a government informer. Says Simels, "He wants a new life and he can't afford to be involved with crooks." Hill's part in the Boston College scheme began in the summer of 1978. Five days after the Lufthansa job he was in Boston Garden watching the first BC point shave. Over the years he has been convicted in cases involving gambling, illegal transportation of untaxed cigarettes and, in 1972, extortion. While serving part of his 10-year sentence in Lewisburg, Pa. federal prison (1976-77) he met Paul Mazzei (see below). Hill is married and has two teen-age children. His former Rockville Centre home was around the corner from the police station.
Rick Kuhn, 25, 6'5", 225-pound former high school star at Swissvale Area High southeast of Pittsburgh from 1970 to 1973. He rebounded well and was a good outlet passer. Although he was slow and an ordinary shooter, his size helped him average 15 points per game as a high school junior and 18.7 as a senior, when a leg injury limited him to 12 games. Kuhn spent two years (1973-74) in the Cincinnati Reds system as a lefthanded pitcher. According to the Reds, he was released in the spring of 1975. He attended Community College of Allegheny County (1975-76), where his coach was Herb Sendek. Says Sendek, "I was mildly shocked when I heard about it [the point shaving] but I could see where even the nice kids could get involved in something like this and be misled." Rick was a top reserve and occasional starter at BC, where he played three seasons, from 1976 to 1979. He averaged only 3.5 points in 1978-79 but was often used for his rebounding ability. JIM SWEENEY, 23, 5'11½" 175-pounder from Trenton, N.J. He and Kuhn were known to be close friends. Sweeney, who started all four years he was at BC, was the squad's top assist man. He was the only three-time captain of any BC athletic team in history and, as a senior in 1979-80, he won the Frances Naismith Award as the best little man in the nation. A former teammate, Tom Meggers, says, "He never, ever did anything wrong. In fact, we would make fun of him because he was such a goody-goody." In the summer of 1978 Meggers and Sweeney worked for the United Parcel Service in Watertown, Mass. "They liked Jim so much," says Meggers, "they gave him an office job, while I had to stay out in those hot trucks throwing packages around." Sweeney was a Rhodes Scholar candidate, achieving a 3.7 grade point average with a double major in English and speech communication, and was a lector at St. Ignatius Church near the BC campus.
Ernie Cobb, 24, 5'11", 180-pound star of the team, from Stamford, Conn. The third-highest scorer in BC history with 1,760 points, he was a co-captain with Sweeney in 1978-79, when he averaged 21.3 points a game. Bob Zuffelato, former BC coach, now at Marshall recruited Cobb. He says basketball was Ernie's "vocation and avocation. He was a gyre rat." Cobb was a sixth-round draft pick of the Utah Jazz in 1979 but failed to make the team he tried again in 1980 with the New Jerse Nets but was cut. Cobb now is playing for the Harlem Wizards, a Globetrotter-type team based in New York City. Wizards owner Howie Davis says, "If politicians showed the same character Ernie shows, we'd all be far ahead. I say we need more Ernie Cobbs."
February 16, 1981
The Pennsylvania Connection
Paul Mazzei, a 37-year-old dog groomer from Pittsburgh. He met Hill in Lewisburg while under sentence for a drug conviction At present he is under indictment in Nassau County on four counts of conspiracy to sell drugs. On Jan. 22 he pleaded not guilty to a heroin conspiracy charge in U.S. District Court in New York.
Tony Perla, a 30-year-old former school librarian from Wilkinsburg, Pa. He became a librarian at General Braddock Junior High in Braddock, a Pittsburgh suburb, in 1972. Or June 25, 1980 Perla and other librarians in the district were laid off for budgetary reasons. When school began in the fall of 1980 he was a substitute librarian in the same school district's Alexander M. Scott High School. Perla got a license to operate the Sputini Restaurant and Lounge in Swissvale or March 20, 1975. On Nov. 9, 1975 he was ar rested for possession of a gambling device, a horoscope machine, but the charge was dropped. He sold the lounge on Jan. 17, 1978.
Rocca Perla, 22-year-old brother of Tony. His association with Kuhn began at Swissvale Area High where both were students. Perla played junior varsity basketball there.
Judy Wicks, blue-eyed blonde in her mid-20s. She's an unindicted co-conspirator in the Nassau drug case involving Hill and Mazzei and, at Hill's request, has cooperated with that investigation under the Federal Witness Program. On occasion she served as a messenger in the BC scheme, carrying money from Hill in New York to Tony Perla in Pennsylvania. She was introduced to Hill by Perla.
The Business Partners
Peter Vario. Peter's father is Paul Vario Sr., a capo in one of New York's five crime families, whose territory includes Kennedy Airport. Peter was indicted in 1973 and acquitted in 1974 in a case involving the fixing of 43 superfecta harness races (bettors pick the first four horses in order) at New York tracks between Jan. 24 and April 13, 1973.
Richard Perry, New York gambler, business partner of Peter Vario, and another of Hill's friends. Perry was convicted in the superfecta case following testimony that he passed information to Peter Vario concerning race drivers who had allegedly been bribed. None of the drivers was convicted.
Jimmy Burke, 50, of Howard Beach, Queens. A close friend of Hill's, he operated a dress factory in Queens next door to what was formerly Roberts Lounge. His criminal record dates to 1948 and he is reputed to be a member of the Vario crime organization. In 1972 he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for loan-sharking. Like Hill, Burke is believed to have had a key role in planning the Lufthansa heist. At the time of the theft, Burke was in a Manhattan halfway house. At present he is in federal prison for parole violation, stemming from an extortion conviction in Florida. This was the same case in which Hill was convicted.