Federal prosecutors say woman illegally entered Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club
Federal prosecutors filed charges Monday against a woman carrying Chinese passports whom they allege illegally entered President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in late March.
The woman, Yujing Zhang, initially gained access to the property on March 30 through a miscommunication with members of Mar-a-Lago security, according to the complaint. Trump was staying at Mar-a-Lago on that date, though he was not on the property at the time Zhang’s alleged visit occurred.
After she was detained, US Secret Service agents searched multiple electronic devices she was carrying, including four cell phones, a laptop computer, an external “hard drive type” device and a thumb drive, and found that the thumb drive contained malicious malware, prosecutors say.
Once on the property, Zhang told a receptionist she was at the club to attend a United Nations Chinese American Association event, which the receptionist knew didn’t exist.
After agents were alerted to Zhang’s presence, she told one agent that she was there to attend a United Nations Friendship Event between the United States and China, and produced what she claimed was an invitation to the event, the complaint says. But “agents were unable to read it as it was in Chinese,” according to the complaint, which also says agents knew such an event wasn’t scheduled to take place.
Late Tuesday, US Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Schall said that the two passports Zhang was carrying were from the People’s Republic of China. The complaint had indicated the passports were from the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan.
“Information presented to the court indicates that the defendant is from the People’s Republic of China, not Republic of China (Taiwan), and they were PRC passports,” Schall said in an email.
Agents removed Zhang from the Mar-a-Lago property and interviewed her. According to prosecutors, Zhang “claimed her Chinese friend ‘Charles’ told her to travel from Shanghai, China, to Palm Beach, Florida, to attend this event and attempt to speak with a member of the President’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations.”
Though agents attempted to elicit more information about “Charles,” Zhang claimed she had spoken to him only through WeChat, a messaging service that is popular in China. And while Zhang behaved as though she didn’t understand much English when she first entered the Mar-a-Lago grounds, the complaint says, during the interviews with agents she “exhibited a detailed knowledge of, and ability to converse in and understand even subtle nuances of, the English language.”
Prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida charged her with one count of having made a false statement to a federal officer and one count of having entered restricted property.
Zhang made a brief initial appearance in Florida federal court Monday where she was advised of the charges against her and the possible penalties she faced, according to a court filing. She is due in court for a detention hearing on April 8.
In a statement late Tuesday, the US Secret Service said in a statement that Mar-a-Lago club management is responsible for deciding who is permitted access to the property, noting that “this access does not afford an individual proximity to the President or other Secret Service protectees.”
“While the Secret Service does not determine who is permitted to enter the club, our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property,” the statement said.
It added that “with the exception of certain permanently protected facilities, such as the White House, the practice used at Mar-a-Lago is no different than that long-used at any other site temporarily visited by the President or other Secret Service protectees.”
By Erica Orden, CNN