By Jeff Franks
HAVANA | Sat Mar 12, 2011 1:37pm EST
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Cuban court that found he had worked to undermine Cuba's communist government, Cuban state-run television reported on Saturday, in the latest blow to U.S.-Cuba relations.
The decision follows a two-day trial last week in which the Cuban government said prosecutors presented evidence that Gross, 61, was involved in a "subversive project" to "topple the revolution."
Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence.
Gross was accused of distributing sophisticated satellite communications equipment for Internet access under a U.S. program that is outlawed and considered subversive by the Cuban government.
He was officially charged with "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state" and can appeal the decision to Cuba's highest court.
The United States, at loggerheads with Cuba for more than five decades, said he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups but committed no crime.
The case halted a brief period of improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations and could do lasting damage if Gross is locked away for a long time.
Some observers believe a political solution will be reached that will allow Gross to go free soon.
Cuban leaders view his work as part of long-standing U.S. efforts to sabotage the communist government put in place after Fidel Castro rose to power in a 1959 revolution.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)