BOSTON (AP) _ Three men pleaded guilty Thursday to taking part in a 1984 scheme to smuggle 7 tons of weapons and ammunition to the outlawed Irish Republican Army.

Under a plea arrangement with federal prosecutors, each of the defendants pleaded guilty to four felony counts of violating federal firearms and export laws. In exchange, the government was to drop racketeering counts and recommend a sentence substantially less than the maximum 22 years in prison and $156,000 in fines. Sentencing was set for June 26.

U.S. Attorney Frank L. McNamara Jr. announced the pleas late Thursday after the defendants appeared before U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro.

Joseph Paul Murray Jr., 41, Patrick J. Nee, 42, both of Boston, and Robert Andersen, 47, of Gloucester, were charged last year with trying to smuggle $1.7 million worth of weapons to the IRA.

Prosecutors said the three conspired to buy weapons in violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control and Export Administration Act. They said Murray and Nee bought weapons, and Andersen's ship was used in the September 1984 transport.

Irish officials seized 163 firearms, 11 bulletproof vests, 71,000 rounds of ammunition, rockets, weapons manuals and hand grenades after the arms were transferred in international waters from the Gloucester-based trawler Valhalla.

Officials said it was the largest seizure of IRA-bound arms in more than a decade.

A fourth man indicted, John Crawley, 29, was arrested when Irish officials seized the weapons cache. He is serving a 10-year sentence in Ireland, and no decision to extradite him will be made until he completes that sentence, Crossen said.

Another defendant, John McIntyre, 34, of Quincy, remains a fugitive.