On The Run

Henry Hill's Kids Write About Life In The Witness Protection Program

Henry Hill became infamous back in 1990, when the movie "Goodfellas" dramatized his life.

But the real Henry Hill wasn't born into the mob. He was half-Italian and half-Irish, and he had to earn his way in. At a young age, he became obsessed with the idea of wise guys and gangsters.

"In my neighborhood, where I came from in Brooklyn, these were the guys with the silk suits and the diamond rings and the beautiful women," says Hill.

Hill did everything he could to make it into organized crime. For 20 years, he lived the mob life, until May 1980, when it all came to a crashing halt.

Hill was arrested on drug charges and faced serious jail time. The government offered him a deal. If he testified against fellow mobsters, the charges would be dropped and he would be protected.

"I was in trouble. I knew I was a dead man, no matter how you cut it. If I stayed in prison, I was dead," says Hill. "Went out in the street, I was dead. So, I mean, my choice was already made."

Hill's only choice was to enter the federal Witness Protection Program. Created in 1967, the program provides a new identity, security and relocation in exchange for testimony. To this day, he says he had no choice.

"I made the deal. Signed the paper -- contract," recalls Hill, who says he testified on nine major cases.

His children, Gregg and Gina, were 13 and 11 when their father made his deal with the government. Although they are out of witness protection now, they insisted that 60 Minutes disguise them. They say only their spouses know who their father is, and what he used to do.

"He was what, in mob parlance, they called an earner," says Gregg. "He had scams, from gambling, extortion, arson that brought money to the mob."

Gregg and Gina have limited contact with their father today. Growing up, they had tried hard to ignore his criminal activities, no matter how obvious.

"When he got involved in drug dealings, he would have Hefty bags, a number of them, filled with marijuana in our living room," says Gregg.

"We tried our best to ignore it, and live our separate lives and do things that normal kids do."

But any chance of being normal kids ended the day the family entered witness protection and were told they had to leave their home on New York's Long Island.

"I'm very angry," says Gregg. "Up until that time, all my father's exploits really only affected him. This was the first time we started feeling the impact of what he was doing. And to be told we were leaving forever. It was a hard fact to sink in."

It happened literally overnight. Gregg and Gina had to pack as much as they could into plastic garbage bags, and then were taken away.

Hill, who also has a book out, says he had no choice. "They'd have locked my kids in a refrigerator if I had left them behind, to get me back there," he says. "My friends."

The government first hid the family in Omaha, Neb., land of rolling cornfields, fresh air and great open spaces. They were given $1,500 a month, and a house to rent. But Gregg and Gina felt a million miles from home.

"I thought we stood out like a sore thumb. My father had jet black hair. Thick Brooklyn accent. My mother had jet black hair. Thick accent," says Gregg. "And the first place we go is Godfather's Pizza. True story. The irony was there."

And while the witness protection program was good at hiding people, it didn't help at all with an alibi. The family was on its own to re-invent its past, right down to choosing a new last name.

"The only thing they told us was, 'Don't tell anyone you're from New York,'" says Gregg. "We used the cover story that my mother and sister came up with -- that my father worked for the government."
  • Rebecca Leung

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