The Crime and Investigation
In 1998, Connor Claxton and Siobhan Brown conspired to illegally purchase over $100,000 in firearms and ammunition in four states. A licensed firearms dealer facilitated off the books sales to the conspirators. Claxton had removed all the serial numbers and secretly shipped the firearms to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland for use against law enforcement and military resources in that country.
ATF had already initiated an investigation of Claxton when British authorities intercepted one of his parcels in 1999. Claxton was ultimately deemed responsible for sending 24 parcels containing 126 firearms into Northern Ireland. Secret codes and contact names stashed in a hotel room showed that known Belfast IRA members had funded the operation. The U.S. Postal Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation, while British and Irish law enforcement agencies provided valuable expertise and support.
The Arrest and Adjudication
Five suspects were arrested in 2000 and later convicted on various federal firearms charges. During the arrests, agents recovered an additional 45 firearms.
During four days of court testimony, Claxton admitted to being an IRA soldier sent to the United States for the purpose of acquiring firearms. The defendants received six months to 65 months imprisonment, with Claxton getting the longest sentence. The presiding judge noted that the pre-Patriot Act guidelines were surprisingly lenient, limiting his sentencing ability.
An additional six defendants in Northern Ireland were charged and later convicted of firearms and smuggling-related violations.