WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration says former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is traveling to Cuba to seek the release of an American government subcontractor sentenced to 15 years in prison for bringing communications equipment into the island country.

The State Department says Richardson is traveling as a private citizen. But the department says it supports his efforts to obtain Alan Gross’ freedom.

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The 62-year-old Maryland native has been jailed in Cuba since December 2009.

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Cuba says he was distributing satellite telephones and other communications equipment that are illegal to use without authorization.

Gross says he was only trying to help the Cuba’s tiny Jewish community improve Internet access as part of a USAID-funded democracy-building program.

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