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Chinese Businesswoman Found Guilty of Trespassing at Mar-a-Lago Chinese Businesswoman Found Guilty of Trespassing at Mar-a-Lago
(34 minutes later)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Chinese businesswoman who talked her way into President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with a cache of electronics and a story about wanting to use the pool was convicted on Wednesday of trespassing and lying to federal agents.FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Chinese businesswoman who talked her way into President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with a cache of electronics and a story about wanting to use the pool was convicted on Wednesday of trespassing and lying to federal agents.
The verdict capped an unusual trial that never answered the question of whether the woman, Yujing Zhang, a financial consultant from Shanghai, was a confused tourist or someone who had a more serious agenda.The verdict capped an unusual trial that never answered the question of whether the woman, Yujing Zhang, a financial consultant from Shanghai, was a confused tourist or someone who had a more serious agenda.
Ms. Zhang, 33, said she had been planning to attend a party when she showed up at Mr. Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., in late March. She talked her way past the Secret Service outside and was allowed in because her surname — among the most common in China — matched that of a club member. She had no swimsuit but said she was going to use the pool.Ms. Zhang, 33, said she had been planning to attend a party when she showed up at Mr. Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., in late March. She talked her way past the Secret Service outside and was allowed in because her surname — among the most common in China — matched that of a club member. She had no swimsuit but said she was going to use the pool.
After Ms. Zhang was stopped in the lobby and questioned further by the Secret Service, agents found that she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive. In her room in a different hotel, they found nine flash drives, five cellphone SIM cards, a device used to detect hidden cameras and about $8,000 in cash.After Ms. Zhang was stopped in the lobby and questioned further by the Secret Service, agents found that she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive. In her room in a different hotel, they found nine flash drives, five cellphone SIM cards, a device used to detect hidden cameras and about $8,000 in cash.
But the three-day trial shed little light on the question of whether Ms. Zhang was a spy penetrating a place where the president regularly holds meetings or a tourist on the worst trip of her life. Some information federal prosecutors collected in the case was filed under seal and remains secret.But the three-day trial shed little light on the question of whether Ms. Zhang was a spy penetrating a place where the president regularly holds meetings or a tourist on the worst trip of her life. Some information federal prosecutors collected in the case was filed under seal and remains secret.
Jurors took four hours to find her guilty. Upon hearing the verdict, Ms. Zhang did not react, but she tried to take her bundle of files with her to jail. The marshals made her leave them behind.Jurors took four hours to find her guilty. Upon hearing the verdict, Ms. Zhang did not react, but she tried to take her bundle of files with her to jail. The marshals made her leave them behind.
She faces up to one year in prison on the trespassing charge, a misdemeanor, and five years on the charge of making a false statement to a federal agent, a felony. The judge set sentencing for Nov. 22.She faces up to one year in prison on the trespassing charge, a misdemeanor, and five years on the charge of making a false statement to a federal agent, a felony. The judge set sentencing for Nov. 22.
Against the advice of her public defenders and the judge, Ms. Zhang decided to act as her own lawyer, even though she seemed unfamiliar with the case against her, unversed in federal criminal justice procedures and not comfortable speaking English. She declined opportunities to cross-examine the prosecution’s nine witnesses and did not testify in her own defense. Against the advice of her public defenders and the judge, Ms. Zhang decided to act as her own lawyer, even though she seemed unfamiliar with the case against her, unversed in federal criminal justice procedures and clearly struggling to speak English. She declined opportunities to cross-examine the prosecution’s nine witnesses and did not testify in her own defense.
The trial got off to an unusual start on Monday, when during jury selection the judge asked why Ms. Zhang was appearing in court in her jail uniform. It was because she had not been supplied with any undergarments, she replied — though her standby public defenders said she had, in fact, been offered a full set of civilian clothing.The trial got off to an unusual start on Monday, when during jury selection the judge asked why Ms. Zhang was appearing in court in her jail uniform. It was because she had not been supplied with any undergarments, she replied — though her standby public defenders said she had, in fact, been offered a full set of civilian clothing.
Her closing argument, the next day, was brief.Her closing argument, the next day, was brief.
“I do think I did nothing wrong,” Ms. Zhang told the court. “I did not lying. I do think I followed instructions. I went into the Mar-a-Lago to have a visit. That’s what I want to say, so thank you.”“I do think I did nothing wrong,” Ms. Zhang told the court. “I did not lying. I do think I followed instructions. I went into the Mar-a-Lago to have a visit. That’s what I want to say, so thank you.”
When the prosecutor, Michael R. Sherwin, proposed entering into evidence a list of text messages exchanged between Ms. Zhang and a contact of hers in Beijing, she objected, saying the texts were “personal” and “sensitive.”When the prosecutor, Michael R. Sherwin, proposed entering into evidence a list of text messages exchanged between Ms. Zhang and a contact of hers in Beijing, she objected, saying the texts were “personal” and “sensitive.”
But the texts showed a clear business and political thrust behind Ms. Zhang’s trip to the United States, with no less of an objective than a meeting with President Trump at his Palm Beach club.But the texts showed a clear business and political thrust behind Ms. Zhang’s trip to the United States, with no less of an objective than a meeting with President Trump at his Palm Beach club.
Ms. Zhang had paid for a vacation package that included a banquet at Mar-a-Lago. But the gala she had paid to attend had been canceled when news outlets revealed that the Florida woman who had a role in promoting the event had once owned a massage parlor where men, including the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert K. Kraft, were accused of paying for sex acts.Ms. Zhang had paid for a vacation package that included a banquet at Mar-a-Lago. But the gala she had paid to attend had been canceled when news outlets revealed that the Florida woman who had a role in promoting the event had once owned a massage parlor where men, including the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert K. Kraft, were accused of paying for sex acts.
The former owner, Cindy Yang, had sold the parlor and become active in Republican circles in Florida. She bundled donations for Mr. Trump, including some that had the appearance of being illegal donations by straw donors. The event she had been selling tickets to was canceled in the wake of the scandal.The former owner, Cindy Yang, had sold the parlor and become active in Republican circles in Florida. She bundled donations for Mr. Trump, including some that had the appearance of being illegal donations by straw donors. The event she had been selling tickets to was canceled in the wake of the scandal.
The trespassing incident exposed a potential hole in Mr. Trump’s security net, with his frequent operations at a club that also sells tickets to the public as a private banquet hall. Chinese businesspeople had begun snapping up tickets for a chance to hobnob with the president and his family, who attended some of the events.The trespassing incident exposed a potential hole in Mr. Trump’s security net, with his frequent operations at a club that also sells tickets to the public as a private banquet hall. Chinese businesspeople had begun snapping up tickets for a chance to hobnob with the president and his family, who attended some of the events.
Prosecutors said a stream of text messages showed that Ms. Zhang knew the event she purportedly was to attend at Mar-a-Lago had been canceled, which prosecutors said raised questions about her motive for making the trip. Her Beijing contact, she said, had suggested that she go instead to an event featuring Bill and Hillary Clinton, or to another with Warren Buffett.Prosecutors said a stream of text messages showed that Ms. Zhang knew the event she purportedly was to attend at Mar-a-Lago had been canceled, which prosecutors said raised questions about her motive for making the trip. Her Beijing contact, she said, had suggested that she go instead to an event featuring Bill and Hillary Clinton, or to another with Warren Buffett.
“You can meet with these famous people,” the contact wrote, according to the English translation of the texts, introduced in court. “You can stand between them and have your photo taken.”“You can meet with these famous people,” the contact wrote, according to the English translation of the texts, introduced in court. “You can stand between them and have your photo taken.”
“I’m not going,” she wrote back on March 27, after hearing that the Mar-a-Lago event was off. “Forget it,” she wrote in another text shortly afterward, referring to the trip.“I’m not going,” she wrote back on March 27, after hearing that the Mar-a-Lago event was off. “Forget it,” she wrote in another text shortly afterward, referring to the trip.
And yet later that same day, prosecutors said, she bought a plane ticket to the United States — paying more than $2,000 in cash — booked a room at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach and, once there, made her way to Mr. Trump’s club.And yet later that same day, prosecutors said, she bought a plane ticket to the United States — paying more than $2,000 in cash — booked a room at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach and, once there, made her way to Mr. Trump’s club.
The trial in Fort Lauderdale, at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, focused exclusively on the narrow questions of whether Ms. Zhang trespassed on restricted property and whether she lied to Secret Service agents about why she was there. It did not look at whether she was potentially engaging in espionage — a question that was debated widely in the news media after her arrest.The trial in Fort Lauderdale, at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, focused exclusively on the narrow questions of whether Ms. Zhang trespassed on restricted property and whether she lied to Secret Service agents about why she was there. It did not look at whether she was potentially engaging in espionage — a question that was debated widely in the news media after her arrest.
As the trial started to wind down on Tuesday afternoon, the judge asked Ms. Zhang whether she planned to deliver a closing argument in her defense. “Um, I’m not ready,” she replied.As the trial started to wind down on Tuesday afternoon, the judge asked Ms. Zhang whether she planned to deliver a closing argument in her defense. “Um, I’m not ready,” she replied.
“You’re going to have to get ready,” Judge Roy Altman said, with mild impatience.“You’re going to have to get ready,” Judge Roy Altman said, with mild impatience.
In his closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Rolando Garcia told jurors that “anyone with any sense would have known” that Mar-a-Lago was a restricted, highly protected place, especially when the president was in residence. But such impediments did not deter the defendant, Mr. Garcia said.In his closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Rolando Garcia told jurors that “anyone with any sense would have known” that Mar-a-Lago was a restricted, highly protected place, especially when the president was in residence. But such impediments did not deter the defendant, Mr. Garcia said.
“She was bound and determined to get on the property,” he went on. “And she lied to everyone to get on that property.”“She was bound and determined to get on the property,” he went on. “And she lied to everyone to get on that property.”
Mr. Garcia said “a bunch of electronics,” including several phones, were found in the defendant’s purse. When asked to explain the devices, Ms. Zhang said she had not wanted to leave them in her hotel in case they got stolen.Mr. Garcia said “a bunch of electronics,” including several phones, were found in the defendant’s purse. When asked to explain the devices, Ms. Zhang said she had not wanted to leave them in her hotel in case they got stolen.
“But that was clearly a lie,” Mr. Garcia said, noting that when officers searched her hotel room, they found more electronic devices and the thousands of dollars in cash.“But that was clearly a lie,” Mr. Garcia said, noting that when officers searched her hotel room, they found more electronic devices and the thousands of dollars in cash.