Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina released from prison and deported

Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina was released from a Florida federal prison Friday and deported to Russia after pleading guilty last year to failing to register in the United States as a foreign agent.

Attorney Robert Driscoll, who represented the 31-year-old former American University student who sought to infiltrate U.S. political organizations including the National Rifle Association, said his client was expected to board a plane for Russia later Friday.

"She is looking forward to going home," Driscoll said.

In a brief statement, the Bureau of Prisons said Butina had been released from Tallahassee's Federal Correctional Institution and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

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ICE said in a statement Friday night, "A citizen of the Russian Federation, who was convicted of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, was removed from the U.S. Friday, pursuant to a judicial removal order, by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)."

The statement said Butina departed from Miami International Airport on a flight to Moscow at approximately 6 p.m. EDT. 

Butina had been implicated in a years-long campaign to court politically connected Americans and infiltrate groups on behalf of the Kremlin.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina at a shooting range in Moscow in 2012.

Reading from a written statement prior to her sentencing earlier this year, Butina said "it has never been my intention to harm the American people," but conceded she "did just that" by not notifying American officials of her activities.

If she had known the law required her to register, Butina said she "would've done so without delay."

This Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 photo provided by the Alexandria, Va., Detention Center shows Maria Butina, accused of being a Russian spy.

The arrest of the gun-toting, red-haired Russian graduate student and activist sparked a speculative frenzy about the nature of her activities in the U.S., as special counsel Robert Mueller was pursuing a far-flung inquiry into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

In court documents, prosecutors said her efforts had the hallmarks of a Russian espionage operation, suggesting that she was acting as a "spotter" to help Russian spies identify Americans they could cultivate. 

Butina's defense attorneys described her as a civil activist who is passionate for gun rights and politics, but whose "amateur diplomacy efforts" became her undoing. They said Butina deeply regrets not disclosing her foreign-agent status to U.S. officials, and had she done so, there would not have been a crime. 

"Maria is not a spy ... She has never engaged in covert activity. Maria is not a proxy for the Russian government ... In truth, nothing about Maria has been secret," one of her attorneys, Alfred Carry, argued earlier this year.

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russian agent Maria Butina leaves prison, deported