Freed from custody Friday, Maria Butina is now expected to be deported to Moscow. File Photo by Press Service of Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation/EPA-EFE
Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Russian political operative Maria Butina was released from a Florida prison Friday after completing an 18-month sentence for improperly infiltrating U.S. political circles before the 2016 presidential election.
Butina used her activism to get close to politicians and powerful organizations, including the National Rifle Association. She pleaded guilty in December on a charge of conspiracy to violate the law governing foreign agents.
She left the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday, and is expected to be deported to Russia.
Butina has so far been the only Russian national arrested in connection with the Justice Department investigation of the Kremlin's electoral interference three years ago.
"I should have registered [as a foreign agent], which I didn't," Butina said in May. "This is why this whole thing got started."
Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the "arbitrary" case against Butina.
"They took, grabbed her, put the girl in jail, but there was nothing to show for it," Putin told state-run news agency Ria Novosti.
Butina cooperated with U.S. authorities as part of a plea deal, providing information on her boyfriend, Republican political operative Paul Erickson. He was indicted on wire fraud and money laundering charges in a separate case in South Dakota.
Russia was accused of arresting U.S. citizen Paul Whelan in June as retaliation for Butina's arrest. He's been held in a Russian prison for 300 days without trial. A judge on Thursday ordered him held until at least December, and his trial is not expected until next spring.