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.


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."