By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The love affair that would make international headlines started as nothing more than a good time. Browne and Smyth, whose wife had recently left him, partied together relentlessly in Irish bars. She looks back and wonders if all the high times didn't cloud their collective judgment. "There was a lot of drinking involved," she says. "His life was all party and women and doing drugs -- cocaine, and all that. I considered him a functional alcoholic. He would wake up in the morning, and he had to go to the bar. Everything was social, and everything was around the bar."
A Provo soldier in his youth, Smyth seemed to care deeply about only one thing: Northern Ireland, which he'd left in the early 1980s after he was held by British authorities on suspicion of IRA-related activity. His most cherished possession was a framed handkerchief that belonged to Bobby Sands, the famed IRA martyr who died in 1981 during a hunger strike in prison. Smyth told Browne he'd dated Sands's sister while he was with the IRA. In his wallet Smyth kept a laminated card commemorating a friend named Brendan O'Callahan, whom British soldiers had gunned down in Belfast. (Smyth is refusing interviews, says his close friend Cindy Paollela of Weston. "He just wants to put this nightmare behind him.")
A month after they started dating, Smyth phoned Browne from a bar and told her, "Make dinner for three." Claxton, a short, pale man of 26 years, was coming to eat. "Of course he charmed the birds off the trees," Browne recalls. She learned Claxton was with the IRA, but no mention was made of guns at that first supper. It would be weeks before she learned the real reason he was in town.
Smyth had met Claxton on one of the younger man's earlier visits to South Florida. Claxton was a world traveler who had made numerous trips to the United States and Europe as well as South Africa, Sierra Leone, and other exotic places. During his trial last year, Claxton claimed he'd gone to those places as a peace emissary for the IRA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs, who prosecuted the gunrunning case, argued in court that Claxton was buying illicit arms for the Provos all along. (Claxton declines to be interviewed in prison, according to his attorney, Fred Haddad.)
Claxton, however, told the jury that his last trip to South Florida wasn't about peace. He admitted he'd arrived on IRA orders to run guns in anticipation of a breakdown in the peace process. The IRA chose Florida, he testified, simply because "you don't have gun shows in Ireland." Even as Claxton was arming his comrades, Gerry Adams and other leaders of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, were assuring everyone they would decommission weapons to fulfill their part of the peace agreement.
Upon arrival Claxton leaped into Browne and Smyth's social life, and he always seemed to have money in his pocket and a girl on his arm. He first lived in Boca Raton with wealthy Salomon Smith Barney stockbroker Michael Logan, who is a major Irish-American supporter of the IRA. Logan, who was later questioned by the FBI, let Claxton drive his Toyota 4Runner. (Logan, whom New Times reached by phone for comment, said he would call back. He didn't.)
After a brief trip to Belfast, Claxton returned to South Florida on January 22, 1999, using the name David Sangster. It was then that he bought the Geo from Smyth, and Browne agreed to let him move into her spare bedroom for $400 a month. Browne says Claxton's presence "opened up old wounds" in her boyfriend, and the two men would rail about Belfast into the night. "Slowly, slowly, he brought Anthony into his confidence" about the guns, she says.
As Smyth learned about the operation, he trickled some of the information down to Browne. Claxton offered Smyth a $100 profit on each firearm Smyth could supply to the cause. Browne says her boyfriend was consumed with the idea of becoming a gunrunner "like it was an addiction." She began to see something he hadn't exhibited before: ambition. "Anthony thought he could make a hundred grand," she says. "Anthony wanted to take over the whole South Florida operation. Idiots, you know. He was like, "I'm going to be a gunrunner.' This guy had no job, no profession. He was too lazy to sell cars. He had no finances. He was living on a wing and a prayer, and he was always in the bar, and now, all of a sudden, he was a big gunrunner for the IRA, a hero."
Browne, however, concedes she eventually agreed to buy guns for Smyth. She says she never discussed the mission with Claxton, who testified on the stand that he never dealt with Browne -- she was usually at the beauty parlor. Asked if she had moral misgivings about her role or realized the guns might be used to kill people, she answered: "I just didn't think about it. It wasn't like drugs. Guns were legal here. After I was arrested, my family was like, "Guns, how could you do that?' I was so stupid."