TX woman detained in China on spy allegations

Family members are making a public plea to rescue a Houston woman of Chinese heritage.

She’s been detained in China for six months, accused of being a spy.

Sandy Phan-Gillis went to China in March as part of a trade delegation and disappeared at a border checkpoint.

China’s president is in the U.S. and will meet with President Obama later this week.

That’s why her loved ones hope now is the perfect time to talk about her case and put pressure on Beijing and Washington, D.C. to set her free.

"Her husband is beside himself,” said family member Tami LaGrone. "Her husband has not been able to talk to her since before she left. So since March, he has not been able to speak to her."

LaGrone is a cousin of Sandy’s husband, Jeff Gillis.

"This is the sweetest lady you could ever meet,” said LaGrone. “You would never think she was a spy or anything like that because she's not. She's just a Houston businesswoman doing communications consulting firm, promoting travel and business opportunities between China and the U.S., particularly Houston, and never had a problem during all the hundreds of trips that she's made to China."

SMU economist Mike Davis has traveled extensively in China.

"The timing of this is really weird and suspicious,” said Davis.

He notes that China’s stock market has crashed, its currency has been devalued and there is upheaval there now.

"There's a lot of turmoil inside China right now between people who want China to be more outward looking to export business to the U.S., encourage investment and those kind of things,” said Davis. “And there's a faction inside China that wants China to be internal looking, focusing on increasing internal consumption and more or less turning their back on the west…this could be what we're seeing is a little act in that much bigger drama going on."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. questions about the status of Phan-Gillis have "gone unanswered” and that the Department of State has been working on it for some time.

He also said he certainly could not rule out that it will come up in conversation between President Obama and president Xi.