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Thursday September 28, 2000

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Accused IRA gun-smugglers sentenced

By The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Three men accused of supplying guns and ammunition to the Irish Republican Army were sentenced yesterday to prison terms ranging from three to nearly five years.

IRA member Conor Claxton, 28, was sentenced to four years and eight months, while Martin Mullan, 30, and Anthony Smyth, 43, were each given three-year terms.

The men were convicted in June of gun smuggling and related charges, but were acquitted of the more serious charges of sending weapons to terrorists and conspiracy to maim or murder in another country. The last charge could have resulted in a life sentence.

While sentencing Claxton, U.S. District Judge Wilkie D. Ferguson said federal guidelines made it impossible for him to impose a longer term.

"If in a crack cocaine case a person can get a life sentence for possessing $400 worth of cocaine, this kind of offense ought to be a death penalty," he said.

Prosecutors said the group ordered 118 guns from a Florida dealer and purchased 86 of those before their arrest. Of the total, 57 were seized and 29 were never located. Prosecutors said the weapons were intended for the IRA, but jurors rejected that charge.

Claxton, a West Belfast resident, testified that militant Irish-Americans encouraged him to buy the weapons, saying unarmed Catholics in Northern Ireland would be at the mercy of Protestant paramilitaries and British police.

"I would like to think that today we are making history, that this will be the last time a judge sentences a man from Ireland for something like this," he said.