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
Browne insists she never requested any money and was never paid. Smyth "asked me to purchase a weapon, and I said, "I never bought a gun in my life,'" she recounts. "He said, "No, no, no, it's legal, it's legal.' He said he couldn't buy them because he didn't have his green card. So I thought about it, and I went to a gun store, and I read the law."
The plan seemed simple enough: Browne would purchase the guns legally, and Smyth would pass them to Claxton, who would file off the serial numbers in a nearby IRA safe house or motel. Then Claxton and other compatriots would conceal them in packages and ship them to Ireland. In early March 1999, Browne began frequenting pawn shops and attending gun shows in Broward County with Smyth, who would pick out the weapons and pay with cash from a credit line he'd obtained, using the Weston condo he owned with his wife as collateral. "It was so easy to buy them," she says. "Nobody asked me if I knew how to shoot, if I knew how to use it, if I knew how to hold it. I didn't even know how to hold the bloody things."
About the time she began buying the weapons, Browne quit her job at Dean Witter. Prosecutor Scruggs later contended that she had left the brokerage because she had intended to flee the country after completing her role in the operation. Browne says she really quit because Claxton's benefactor, Logan, had promised her a position at Salomon Smith Barney. Browne asserts Salomon Smith Barney hired her, but she never went to work at the firm.
Meanwhile Claxton arranged for Elorriaga to move into Browne's apartment, and soon the Basque-born revolutionary was partying with the rest. On Saint Patrick's Day, Smyth rented a limousine, and they hopped from bar to bar in style. For the Fort Lauderdale Air and Sea Show, they bought tickets to a party on a yacht commissioned by Waxy O'Connor's. And on March 15, 1999, they went to the Anglesea Pub in Pompano Beach, where an American pro-IRA group called Noraid was holding a fundraiser. Noraid has offices around the country and raises millions of dollars annually for the IRA. The keynote speaker at the Anglesea that day was a man known in Northern Ireland as "Uncle Joe" -- Joe Cahill, a founding member of the Provisional IRA and famed gunrunner. Cahill, now a high-ranking member of Sinn Fein who is close to Gerry Adams, earned notoriety in 1973 when the Republic of Ireland's army caught him smuggling five tons of weapons from Libya. Browne says Claxton had a 20-minute discussion with the old gunrunner at the Anglesea. "What do you think Uncle Joe thought Claxton was doing over here?" she asks rhetorically. "Coming to see Mickey Mouse?"
On April 25 Browne and her boyfriend hit what Smyth called "the jackpot" at a gun show in Fort Lauderdale's National Guard Armory. At the show Browne ordered two Ruger .357 magnums, two Smith and Wesson .40-caliber semiautomatic pistols, and a .38 revolver from Boynton Beach gun dealer Ed Bluestein. It was the largest purchase Browne would ever make -- and the last. On Browne's 34th birthday, April 27, Smyth happened to be given his green card, which allowed him to purchase the arms himself. But it was already too late -- Browne's final buy ultimately led to the arrests. (She bought a total of 27 handguns, according to prosecutors.) Unbeknownst to Browne, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms flags all purchases of four or more weapons. The agency was soon trying to figure out why an Irish stockbroker was buying so many guns.
On April 28 Smyth and Browne went to Bluestein's home to pick up the five pistols. The following day Smyth faxed Bluestein a handwritten copy of what came to be known as Claxton's "wish list" of weapons. It included powerful sniper rifles, large-caliber ammunition, "anything silenced .25 and up... any small concealable .25 and up... [and] any full auto submachine guns the smaller the better." Within a week Smyth had bought from Bluestein 26 handguns and 6 shotguns, many of them off the books.
But as the operation grew, so did tension within the group. Browne says she was growing to hate Claxton, whom she paints as a boastful, out-of-control con artist. With their mooching ways (the Mercedes was a particularly thorny issue), he and Elorriaga were outstaying their welcome in her apartment. And Claxton's womanizing repulsed her, as did the fact that he wasn't in Northern Ireland taking care of his two sons. "Conor says that every time he has another kid, that's just another Catholic for Ireland," she says. "He says, "I have children all over Ireland,' and every kid in Belfast grew up without their dad because they were all in prison.
"Everything with him came down to the Brits. He didn't work back home, drew unemployment. He never worked a day in his life. The British government supports his kids, and he wants to blow it out of there."
And Claxton had a temper. On one of the roommates' nights out, Browne thinks it was in early May, they went to the Irish Cottage pub in Delray Beach, where Claxton attacked her friend and former business partner Rob Branson. The reason: Branson is British. "We were all friends having a drink, and then the religion came up and the problems back home, and Conor shook his fist," she recalls. "Conor started hitting Rob, and Anthony broke them up. Everybody was all fine and dandy until Conor got drink in him. Like the Incredible Hulk, you know. Conor lives in a world of illusion. There is no reality. It's so conflicted. Conor used to say there would be ethnic cleansing and bloodbaths in the north of Ireland."