China deports U.S. citizen convicted of spying after two years in custody

Last Updated May 1, 2017 10:25 AM EDT

China has deported an American citizen who was convicted and sentenced on an espionage charge after she was held in custody for more than two years.

A spokesman for the State Department confirmed to CBS News that the U.S. is aware Chinese authorities deported 57-year-old Sandy Phan-Gillis on Friday.

The deportation follows a trial last week where Phan-Gillis was convicted of spying for the U.S. government from 1996 to 1998. She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Phan-Gillis, an international business consultant from Houston, was detained by authorities on March 19, 2015, when she visited southern China. Her family says she was simply on a trade mission with Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez of Houston to promote business relations between the city and China.

Phan-Gillis' husband, Jeff Gillis, says his wife was not allowed to speak with her lawyers for more than one year and that China State Security had tortured her into making a false confession. He said in a statement that the trial was closed to U.S. officials, journalists and family members.

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In this Oct. 4, 2016, file photo, Jeff Gillis looks through documents he has collected in support of his wife in Houston. The husband of U.S. citizen Phan "Sandy" Phan-Gillis, who has been charged in China with spying, spent months trying to prove his wife's innocence with the little information he had. 

David J. Phillip/AP

"Many of Sandy's friends and family members have been crying tears of joy throughout the day," Gillis said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Phan-Gillis was unjustly "separated from her family" and detained in China on "baseless charges."

"Today, she is released and free again," he said in a statement. "This is a day of great celebration for her family and all Texans."