Judge or­ders lockup of woman ar­rested at Mar-a-Lago

Yu­jing Zhang pleaded not guilty af­ter her ar­rest at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. The Chi­nese na­tional was ar­rested car­ry­ing ‘mal­ware’ but a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Mon­day said that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion may have been a ‘false pos­i­tive.’

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY SARAH BLASKEY, CAITLIN OSTROFF, JAY WEAVER AND NI­CHOLAS NE­HAMAS [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com [email protected]­clatchydc.com [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

A fed­eral judge Mon­day or­dered the de­ten­tion of Yu­jing Zhang, the Chi­nese woman ar­rested try­ing to en­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pri­vate Mar-a-Lago club.

“It does ap­pear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to some­thing ne­far­i­ous,” Mag­is­trate Judge Wil­liam Matthew­man said at the fed­eral court­house in West Palm Beach, adding that he con­sid­ered Zhang, 33, a flight risk and be­lieved she would re­turn to China if re­leased be­fore trial.

Matthew­man said the weight of the ev­i­dence against Zhang — who pleaded not guilty Mon­day to charges of mak­ing false state­ments to fed­eral of­fi­cers and en­ter­ing re­stricted prop­erty — is “quite strong.” Pros­e­cu­tors had asked to keep her locked up.

Al­though no al­le­ga­tions of es­pi­onage have been made against Zhang, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Rolando Garcia said more charges are still pos­si­ble. The FBI is treat­ing her case as a na­tional-se­cu­rity mat­ter, sources

have told the Mi­ami Her­ald. Her ar­rest raised ques­tions about se­cu­rity at Mar-a-Lago — and whether for­eign ad­ver­saries could seek to pen­e­trate the pres­i­dent’s Palm Beach club.

Zhang was stopped at Mar-a-Lago March 30. She said she was there to at­tend an event and was car­ry­ing what the U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice de­scribed as a thumb drive con­tain­ing “ma­li­cious mal­ware,” as well as sev­eral other elec­tronic de­vices.

But dur­ing Mon­day’s hear­ing, pros­e­cu­tors ac­knowl­edged the mal­ware could have been a “false pos­i­tive.” Garcia said the new find­ings were based on an FBI anal­y­sis of the thumb drive that did not pro­duce the same re­sults as an ear­lier Se­cret Ser­vice anal­y­sis.

Dur­ing the ear­lier test, the thumb drive was in­serted into a com­puter and au­to­mat­i­cally started down­load­ing files, some­thing a Se­cret Ser­vice agent de­scribed as un­usual in court tes­ti­mony last week. The thumb drive did not start down­load­ing files dur­ing the sub­se­quent FBI anal­y­sis, Garcia said. Tests are on­go­ing.

Matthew­man asked Garcia Mon­day how close Zhang got to a Mar-a-Lago com­puter.

“Within arm’s length” of a com­puter in the club’s re­cep­tion area, Garcia replied.

Garcia also dis­closed that mes­sages from Zhang’s iPhone showed she learned from an event pro­moter on March 26 that the Mar-a-Lago gala had been can­celed, two days be­fore she flew from China to the United States, some­thing first re­ported by the Her­ald.

Matthew­man said his or­der to de­tain Zhang was based on the fact that she showed up for the event know­ing that it was can­celed, as well as the num­ber of elec­tronic de­vices in her pos­ses­sion. He also pointed out the de­fen­dant had the fi­nan­cial re­sources to flee “if she chooses to do so” and that she had no fam­ily ties to the United States, which has no ex­tra­di­tion treaty with China.

Zhang’s fed­eral pub­lic de­fend­ers ar­gued dur­ing the hear­ing that her ar­rest was a mis­un­der­stand­ing based on lan­guage.

If an in­ter­preter had been present at Mar-aLago, “we would not be here to­day,” said at­tor­ney Kristy Militello.

Militello and co-coun­sel Robert Adler said the ev­i­dence was not over­whelm­ing and that there was no record­ing of her re­sponses to ini­tial ques­tion­ing af­ter her ar­rest. They pro­posed a bond of $250,000 to be co-signed by Zhang’s fa­ther.

A fed­eral grand jury found prob­a­ble cause Fri­day that she lied to the Se­cret Ser­vice about why she came to Mar-a-Lago. She is be­ing held at the Palm Beach County jail.

On Mon­day, Zhang wore an in­mate’s blue uni­form with her hand­cuffs con­nected to a waist chain and her an­kles shack­led, too. She ap­peared to speak to her at­tor­neys in English, al­though they oc­ca­sion­ally con­sulted a court-ap­pointed Man­darin trans­la­tor. If con­victed on both counts, she could face up to six years in prison and as much as $350,000 in fines.

Shortly af­ter noon on March 30, Zhang was waved through a U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice check­point out­side Mar-a-Lago af­ter say­ing she wished to visit the swim­ming pool, according to a crim­i­nal com­plaint. Mar-a-Lago staff granted her ac­cess be­cause her last name — one of the most com­mon in China — was the same as a club mem­ber’s, the com­plaint stated. She was stopped only af­ter telling a re­cep­tion­ist and then a Se­cret Ser­vice agent that she was there to at­tend a “United Na­tions Friend­ship Event,” which was not on Mar-aLago’s cal­en­dar.

Se­cret Ser­vice agents found she was car­ry­ing a wide va­ri­ety of elec­tron­ics: four cell­phones, a lap­top com­puter, an ex­ter­nal hard drive and the thumb drive. A search of her ho­tel room at the Colony in Palm Beach un­cov­ered more elec­tron­ics, in­clud­ing a de­vice used to de­tect hid­den cam­eras, and more than $8,000 in Amer­i­can and Chi­nese cur­rency. She told the court in an ear­lier hear­ing that she was a fi­nan­cial in­vestor and con­sul­tant from Shang­hai, and said she owned a $1.3 mil­lion home and a BMW.

Zhang was in­dicted Fri­day on charges of mak­ing a false state­ment to a fed­eral of­fi­cer and en­ter­ing re­stricted prop­erty.

Since late last year, an FBI coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence squad has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble Chi­nese es­pi­onage op­er­a­tions in South Florida tar­get­ing Pres­i­dent Trump, sources told the Her­ald. Zhang’s ar­rest sent that in­ves­ti­ga­tion into over­drive. Au­thor­i­ties have re­cently fo­cused on Li “Cindy” Yang, a for­mer South Florida mas­sage par­lor op­er­a­tor, and her busi­ness sell­ing ac­cess to the pres­i­dent. Yang had used Chi­nese so­cial me­dia to pro­mote the Mar-a-Lago event that Zhang wished to at­tend. The event was a “Safari Night” ben­e­fit for a lo­cal youth char­ity co­hosted by El­iz­a­beth Trump Grau, Trump’s sis­ter.

On Mon­day, Garcia the pros­e­cu­tor re­vealed that Zhang had learned about the event’s can­cel­la­tion from Charles Lee, a Chi­nese busi­ness­man who pro­moted events at Mar-aLago to Chi­nese clients along with Yang. Lee runs a com­pany called the United Na­tions Chi­nese Friend­ship As­so­ci­a­tion. Lee was saved on Zhang’s phone as “United Na­tions Charles.” She paid his com­pany $20,000 for a travel pack­age that in­cluded go­ing to the Mar-a-Lago event, according to a re­ceipt en­tered into ev­i­dence by the de­fense.

Through a spokes­woman, Yang has said she did noth­ing wrong and doesn’t know Zhang.

Yang had planned to at­tend a March 10 fundraiser for Trump at Mar-aLago hosted by the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. But she de­cided not to go af­ter the Her­ald pub­lished a story about her po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and con­sult­ing busi­ness, in­clud­ing a selfie she had taken with the pres­i­dent. An RNC of­fi­cial said Yang asked for a re­fund on March 8, the day the Her­ald story pub­lished, and was re­funded $5,600.

Na­tional-se­cu­rity ex­perts have raised ques­tions about vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties at Mar-a-Lago since Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion. But Zhang’s ar­rest was the first re­ported ma­jor breach. Last week, the White House said Se­cret Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Ran­dolph “Tex” Alles would be leav­ing his post, al­though a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion source said Alles’ de­par­ture was not re­lated to Zhang’s ar­rest.

Still, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said Alles should tes­tify be­fore Congress about the in­ci­dent and broader se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“The pub­lic and Congress need to know the ex­tent to which ad­ver­sar­ial gov­ern­ments — like China — and their agents are at­tempt­ing to gain ac­cess to, or con­duct elec­tronic sur­veil­lance on, con­ver­sa­tions or other in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing na­tional se­cu­rity at Pres­i­dent Trump’s prop­er­ties,” Schumer said in a state­ment.

In Fe­bru­ary, a fed­eral judge in Mi­ami im­posed a max­i­mum one-year sen­tence on a Chi­nese stu­dent who was caught by Key West po­lice tres­pass­ing onto the high-se­cu­rity Naval Air Sta­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors soon learned he was tak­ing pho­tos and videos of the mil­i­tary base on his smart­phone and dig­i­tal cam­era.

Zhao Qianli, 20, told FBI agents that he was a mu­si­col­ogy stu­dent from China who trav­eled to the United States for a sum­mer ex­change pro­gram. He said that dur­ing his late Septem­ber visit to Key West he lost his way on the tourist trail and did not re­al­ize he had wan­dered onto the mil­i­tary base. He later pleaded guilty to tak­ing the pho­tos of de­fense in­stal­la­tions at the mil­i­tary base.

Qianli’s con­vic­tion and sen­tenc­ing fol­lowed a re­cent CNN re­port that said U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have warned that China is en­list­ing some of its stu­dents study­ing in the United States to act as spies in gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion on busi­ness, tech­nol­ogy and sci­ence for the Bei­jing gov­ern­ment.


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