By Patrick Markey
An American arms dealer who supplied weapons to the three Irish nationals charged in the IRA gun-running trial in Florida has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and taken the stand to testify against the other defendants.
After accepting a plea on conspiracy charges, Edward Bluestein told jurors that he sold 43 handguns to defendants Anthony Smyth and Siobhan Browne, but balked after the couple asked him for sniper rifles, automatic weapons and silencers, according to the Miami Herald.
Prosecutors in the Fort Lauderdale federal trial say Smyth and two other defendants, Conor Claxton and Martin Mullan, were part of an international gun-smuggling operation working to ship arms to the Provisional IRA in Belfast.
Browne pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month and may also testify against her former codefendants before she is sentenced.
Federal agents broke up the operation last July and charged the four with weapons and conspiracy charges.
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At the start of the trial two weeks ago, prosecutors charged the three men conspired to send handguns and ammunition to Ireland disguised as packages of toys and electronic equipment. After the arrest of the suspects, the U.S. District Attorney’s office filed a second indictment, which charged them with terrorism and conspiracy to maim and kill persons in Northern Ireland.
One of the defendants, Claxton, allegedly told an FBI agent during questioning that he was working for higher ups in the Provisional IRA. His attorney denies Claxton made those comments.
Despite a judge’s warning to keep the sessions free of politics, attorneys have drawn Northern Ireland’s Troubles into the courtroom to present context for a possible defense. Prosecutors insist that the weapons were to be used as the tools of terrorism.
Federal prosecutors say they have hundreds of fingerprints from Claxton linked to the packages sent from Fort Lauderdale to England and Ireland.
Bluestein said in his deal with Smyth and Browne, he agreed to break gun-reporting laws by reporting only a few of the guns the couple bought in exchange for fee. The gun dealer testified that Smyth told him: "Within 24 hours after these guns leave your house, they will be out of the United States,’" according to the Herald.