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FBI Claims Odd Trio of Brink’s Suspects Stole Millions to Aid IRA

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A priest once implicated in gun-running, a retired police officer and an illegal immigrant who was imprisoned for explosives violations--all charged in a $7.4-million armored car company theft--may have committed the crime to help finance the Irish Republican Army, FBI officials said Saturday.

Some of the money stolen Jan. 5 in Rochester, N.Y., may have been funneled to the IRA through postal money orders or couriers leaving New York City and Canada, investigators said.

Suitcases and duffel bags full of cash--so much money that it could only be weighed, not counted, over the weekend--were displayed Saturday at an FBI news conference in Manhattan. The 350 pounds of currency, mostly $20 bills, was seized during raids in New York City, as was a counting machine.

Agents indicated that the case was broken through extensive FBI surveillance and sloppiness on the part of the ex-policeman, who worked as a guard for Brink’s Armored Car Service. He refused to take a polygraph test after the crime, one of the largest armored car company robberies in the nation’s history.

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“We are looking to see if the robbery is linked to the IRA and bank robberies,” said William Y. Doran, the agent in charge of the criminal division in the FBI’s New York field office.

Arrested on Friday were Thomas F. O’Connor, 54, a former Rochester police officer; Patrick Moloney, 61, a Manhattan priest; Samuel Millar, 38, an illegal immigrant; and Charles McCormick, 29, in whose Manhattan apartment most of the cash was found. The four have been charged with receiving and possessing stolen money insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Court papers claimed O’Connor has been active in NORAID, or Irish Northern Aid, the main fund-raising group in the United States for families of prisoners caught in the strife in Northern Ireland. NORAID is suspected of funding the Irish Republican Army, which wants the British government out of Northern Ireland.

According to an FBI affidavit, O’Connor toured Northern Ireland in 1983 and was introduced to Millar, who had just served six years in prison for firearms and explosives violations.

The affidavit said that O’Connor and another NORAID member in Rochester smuggled Millar into the United States in 1984. Authorities had denied Millar a visa because of his criminal record. Millar’s wife, Bernadette Fennell, entered the country in 1984 on a visitor’s visa that has expired. The FBI said both were associated with NORAID members, including O’Connor.

During surveillance, Millar was seen with Moloney, who was arrested in Ireland in 1980 with his brother for allegedly attempting to smuggle weapons from the United States. Court papers said John Moloney was convicted in Ireland, but authorities declined to prosecute his clergyman brother.

In the January robbery, O’Connor and two other guards were overpowered by masked gunmen at the Brink’s offices in Rochester. While O’Connor’s co-workers were forced to the floor of the vault room--bound hand and foot while their heads were covered with empty money bags--they were told that O’Connor was being forced to go with the robbers.

Both men told FBI agents that they heard the opening and closing of what they believed to be the sliding door of a minivan. O’Connor was found two hours after the robbery at a restaurant about five miles from the money depot. He said he had been abducted.

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The other two guards passed polygraph tests and cooperated with police. O’Connor refused to help and after four days provided a signed deposition to investigators, who became convinced it was riddled with falsehoods.

O’Connor said the robbers put a knit hat over his face after they overpowered and disarmed him, even though a knit hat is not an effective blindfold. He told authorities the robbers also ordered him to answer the depot’s phone and let in anyone at the door.

The ex-policeman said he was placed in a large moving van with an overhead door, even though the guards’ statements and tire tracks at the scene indicated the getaway vehicle was a minivan.

FBI agents quickly concluded that the robbery was an inside job and that O’Connor was the chief suspect, especially after his refusal of the polygraph test.

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A review of motor vehicle records revealed that Fennell owned a minivan. FBI agents found that she and Millar were living together in New York City, and their surveillance began.

On the second day, agents say they saw Millar discard two tires with markings similar to those found at the depot.

Agents also say that Millar opened a bank account with $25,000 and began buying money orders using aliases. He took a vacation in Florida; Fennell, her children and another woman went to Hawaii. These trips were paid for in cash, the FBI said.

Court papers said that when FBI agents raided the apartment in Manhattan, they found money with serial numbers known to have been taken in the robbery.

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