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Articles of Interest by Jay B. Itkowitz During his Journalism Career

Joyous homecoming on LI after Fort Worth ordeal

Long Island Press

After three months of not seeing daylight, Thomas Laffey of Williston Park was glad to be home.

Surrounded by his family and friends in his own home at 177 Campbell Avenue, Laffey sipped his beer slowly. It was his first in a long time; they don't serve beer in the Tarrant County Jail in Texas.

"The hardest thing was being away from my wife, my job, and my friends and neighbors," said Laffey, who just hours before arrived at LaGuardia Airport with the other four Irish Americans who have become known as the "Fort Worth Five."

For Laffey, 34, it was almost too much to believe that he was out of jail, even though he might have to go back if his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court fails.

But yesterday there was little talk of going back. Instead, there was the sound of laughing children and the warmth of friends.

Laffey and the others didn't find out that the $100,000 bail for each of the five was being reduced until yesterday afternoon. The five were jailed in Texas in late June for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury about alleged gun-running to Northern Ireland.

The Long Island real estate salesman, who moved to this country in 1955, was released yesterday evening on $5,000 bail.

"I never knew I was worth so much money ($100,000) until Judge (Leo) Brewster set bail for us," said Laffey.

Laffey's companions were released on bail ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 after Judge Brewster conferred with government attorneys and a 5th Circuit Court judge by telephone.

The others are Paschal Morahan, 25, of the Bronx; Kenneth Tierney, 45, of Yonkers; Daniel Crawford, 45, of Manhattan, and Matthias Reilly, 31, of Blauvelt, N.Y. All five were to remain in prison until November, 1973, when the grand jury disperses, if they could not meet the high bail.

Under the Organized Crime Act of 1970, the five could be called before a succeeding grand jury and jailed again until that grand jury's term expired.

Attorneys said they would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the "next two or three weeks," but, if the high court refuses to hear the case, the five would have to return to the Texas jail.

As his wife Eileen looked on, Laffey denied being involved with any guns. Asked if he was active in the Northern Aid Society, Laffey said he helped run a few fund-raising dances. "We turned the money over to them. Their intention is to help the families of those interned," said the tall soft-spoken man.

Laffey, who only knew one other member of the Fort Worth Five before they were jailed, had never been to Texas before this. He recalled how while being served with a subpoena in June he told the marshal he must be mistaken about Texas. "Surely, you mean Mineola," said the shocked one-time Army veteran. But more shocks were to follow.

Laffey claimed he and the others didn't have the faintest idea why they were summoned until he got to Dallas where they saw newspaper reports which spoke of a "supposed gun-running plot."

Tired by the crush of events, Laffey did not seem bitter. Rather he was grateful that so many friends helped his family out in time of need.

While he spoke of those who helped him, including Rep. Lester Wolff who fought the Justice Department for the right to visit him in Texas, his companions and supporters spoke in bitter tones about the government that jailed him.

Earlier, at a press conference following their arrival at LaGuardia, one of their attorneys, Paul O'Dwyer, compared their imprisonment to the "oppression" of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the British. O'Dwyer characterized the release of the five as the "culmination of a rather expensive campaign to make the Bill of Rights and the Constitution living documents in America."

O'Dwyer said the five men refused to answer questions before the grand jury for a number of reasons, one of which was that they had been removed from their home areas to a far-away place to be questioned.

O'Dwyer refused to entertain questions concerning the allegations of arms sales.

However, Kenneth Tierney, one of the five, said: "I'd swear on the Bible that the allegations were totally false. It is a witch hunt-McCarthyism." At the news conference, Tierney had charged that the "Justice Department is riddled with fascism. What happened in Germany is right around the corner. Look - Germany is right around the corner, looking us right in the eye."

About 250 people packed the corridors leading to the Braniff flight that brought the five home. As the five stepped off the plane they were greeted by cheering supporters, relatives, and an Irish Pipe Band from Babylon which escorted them to the news conference.

Laffey was greeted by his wife, Eileen, and his children, and also received kisses from his mother, Catherine, a native of Ireland who arrived last week to help take care of the children. Rep. Wolff was also there with expressions of support.