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
He constantly boasted of his Provo connections, she says, asserting that people he didn't like would wind up ""floating in the Everglades....' He really thought he could snap his fingers and the IRA would come and take you out," she says. "He thought the IRA was his own private army. He thought he was so important that [Sinn Fein leader and current Northern Ireland education commissioner] Martin McGuinness would send over a private plane, and he could hop on the plane and go home."
Claxton, however, was about to run into some serious trouble, and the IRA wouldn't be there to save him.
When Claxton made a quick trip to Belfast to attend his son's First Communion in May, he returned with dire news. "He told Anthony that things were going badly with the peace process," Brown says. "That there was going to be ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, a bloodbath."
Claxton's mission in South Florida was also going awry. A growing source of tension was Browne's husband, Rapaport, who still called her regularly. Claxton hated Rapaport and habitually called him "the Jew." Browne says Claxton "was anti-Semitic, and he knew that [Rapaport] saw right through him.... Conor was always afraid I would tell my husband about the guns."
Fights over money also erupted; idealism began to give way to greed. Claxton, Browne says, began stiffing Smyth on payments for the guns. She says Claxton was instead spending his IRA money on lobster dinners and travel around the country to find other sources of weapons. (One of those trips, according to court records, was to San Francisco, where Claxton met with a convicted smuggler named Robert Flint. Suspected IRA higher-up Seamus Moley, who gained notoriety in Fort Lauderdale during the 1990s when he was convicted of trying to buy a Stinger missile, allegedly arranged the meeting.)
Instead of making $100,000, Smyth lost money. Borrowing from his credit line, he spent at least $18,000 for guns and was paid only about $15,500 in return (in bank drafts sent from Belfast). "Conor took his eye off the ball," Browne surmises. "He came over here and got sloppy. He spent the IRA money, and he ripped off Anthony. Anthony was up to his neck in [debt]. It was ridiculous. When Anthony complained, Conor told Anthony that Anthony was getting greedy and he should just do it for the cause."
By mid-May Claxton had moved out of Browne's apartment and into the Buccaneer Motel in Deerfield Beach. When Browne threatened to tell Rapaport, who was living in New York at the time, about the gunrunning, Claxton was infuriated. He arranged a meeting with Smyth in the parking lot of the East Side Pub, a Fort Lauderdale bar on Federal Highway. Browne says Smyth returned from the encounter in tears and told her Claxton had led him into a van in the parking lot, where three other men were waiting. Smyth recognized only one of them, Michael Brogan, a member of the Irish Nationalist Liberation Army, which is aligned with the IRA. "Conor told Anthony he had official orders from the IRA to execute me because I was a security leak in his gun-smuggling operation, where there was millions of dollars involved," Browne recounts. "He said that because I was Anthony's girlfriend, he would do it himself, he would break my two arms and break my two legs and all this shit. So Anthony came to me shaking, because Anthony is a baby. He's spineless. He's a woman that wants a mother. He never grew up. He came home and blamed it on me."
Smyth begged Browne to keep quiet about the operation, and the couple began arguing incessantly. One night their sparring spilled into the parking lot of her apartment building, where witnesses saw Smyth physically assault Browne, according to court records. Browne says it was their only physical altercation, and despite the violence, they stayed together and ultimately moved into Smyth's Weston condo, which had been vacated by his ex-wife.
Browne, still furious about Claxton's threat, issued one of her own: She would call the police if Claxton ever showed his face to her again. Rapaport remembers that his wife was terrified. "She started beeping me in the middle of the night, saying her life was in danger, and if anything happened to her, I should know who to turn to -- Claxton," says Rapaport.
Browne also tells of a chance meeting at Waxy O'Connor's with an IRA higher-up named Mickey Couples, whom Smyth knew from his days in Belfast. Browne says Couples told them he was in town to check on Claxton's gunrunning mission. Couples also said he oversaw his own "cell" of IRA operatives and was the best friend of Claxton's IRA "boss."
"He said Claxton was a problem. He said he wasn't doing the bare minimum with the guns," she recalls. "I told this guy how Claxton threatened my life, and he sat back and said, "Jesus Christ! I don't believe it.' He was horrified and very apologetic. He said they have a problem with volunteers when they come to America. They get into the good lifestyle, they come to the beach, and they forget about the cause."