The story of Sam Millar, an IRA man believed to have carried out a $7.4 million heist on a Brinks armored car in upstate New York in 1993, is set to hit the silver screen as the rights to his memoir “On the Brinks” were recently acquired by a US distribution company.
Focus Features, the distribution company involved in the likes of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” wish to retell the incredible life story of Millar, who was in Derry on Bloody Sunday, took part in blanket protests in the Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland, moved illegally to New York and worked in casinos, and was linked with the fifth-largest armored car robbery ever in the United States, of which $5.2 million is still to be recovered.
The screenplay is to be written by Michael Lerner, a former Newsweek foreign correspondent, who has called Millar a fascinating character, referring to the story as “a slice of New York at a certain time.”
Growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, “On the Brinks” tells of how Millar became involved in the IRA in his youth, spending time time in Long Kesh in the ‘70s and 80s for IRA-related activity including setting fire to three buses in Belfast.
While in the infamous prison once referred to as the “British concentration camp” by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, he became one of the “Blanket Men,” the IRA prisoners who refused to wear prison uniforms when the British government deemed them to no longer be political prisoners. As political prisoners they would have been allowed to remain in their own clothing and in protest against being treated as general criminals, they refused to dress.
Giving detailed accounts of his time in prison and their treatment at the hands of the prison guards during this extremely turbulent time in Northern Ireland, of his move to New York where he worked in the Upper East Side in clandestine casinos and collect money for Irish casino bosses, and even of his love for comic books, Millar is less forthcoming with details of the crime which would make his name famous: the 1993 $7.4 million Brinks robbery in New York.
Driving upstate in January 1993 in the family minivan, Millar suddenly became a rich man, spending cash in $20 increments on new cars, family vacations, and even opening up a comic book store near his home in Queens.
It was November 1993 before he was arrested alongside Irish priest and IRA supporter Patrick Moloney, known as a defender of the poor in the East Village neighborhood in which he still works at 85 years old, and Thomas F. O’Connor, a fellow IRA supporter and retired Rochester police officer, who was the Brinks guard on duty the night of the robbery. Having helped Miller enter the States illegally, authorities thought O’Connor may also have played a part in securing his sudden fortune.
Federal authorities immediately deemed the crime to have been carried out on behalf of the IRA to fund their campaign in Northern Ireland, but they still lacked hard evidence and the three accused were less than forthcoming with information.
Authorities could link neither Millar nor Fr. Moloney to the crime and so they were both simply found guilty of possessing cash that was taken in the robbery and not for the robbery itself. Fr. Moloney spent five years in a federal prison in Pennsylvania while Millar was just to spend four years in prison in the US before being transferred to a detention center in Ireland. Authorities were unable to link O’Connor to the crime in any way and so he was acquitted and served no time in prison.
Highly critical of Millar after the arrest and after the memoir, in particular, Fr. Moloney claimed in a conversation with the New York Times that it was his kindness to Millar that implicated him with the crime, offering Millar the keys to a safe house for his brother only for him to use it to stash $2 million cash.
Long maintaining his innocence, the priest claims he believed the money to be connected with Millar’s casino work and he should have been exonerated from the start. Fr. Moloney has also claimed the Millar defamed the IRA movement with his actions and carried out the scheme for nobody's benefit but his own.
Surveillance tapes have shown the priest leaving the safe house with duffel bags believed to be filled with cash, however, and $168,000 was also found in one of his safes, money he contested belonged to illegal immigrants in his parish who needed a safe place to keep their savings.
Millar makes no links between his IRA leanings and the crime in the memoir but does admit that he was inspired to carry it out following a work visit to his friend O’Connor in which he noticed the lax state of security surrounding the money.
Accompanied by a man he just names as Marco, he writes that they walked right into the depot holding guns and wearing masks, while they tied up three guards including O’Connor. Authorities did not believe O’Connor claims that he didn’t recognize his friend or not know about the robbery in advance. As investigations began, it was the flaky testimony from the guard that made them suspect an inside job and eventually brought Millar to their attention.
Millar remained in Belfast following his release and continues to live in his native Northern Ireland where he now writes crime novels.
H/T: New York Times