U.S. Markets closed

Chinese Mar-a-Lago Intruder Convicted of Trespassing, Lying

Jonathan Levin

(Bloomberg) -- The Chinese woman who gained access to Mar-a-Lago when members of the first family were visiting was convicted of trespassing and lying to the Secret Service.

Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old Shanghai consultant who represented herself in court, faces a prison sentence even as questions linger about what she was doing at President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort and about security at the club.

She was unflinching as she learned the verdict, after the jury deliberated for more than four hours Wednesday. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 22.

When Zhang arrived at the property, on March 30, she was briefly, and erroneously, granted access because her name matched that of a member.

Trump frequently carries out official business and spends time with his family at the resort, which also hosts private events. He often holds court in dining rooms and other open-access spaces. That poses unique logistical and financial problems for the Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting the president and his family.

The president was golfing nearby when Zhang arrived at Mar-a-Lago.

From the beginning of the case, prosecutors had hinted at something more nefarious than trespassing, and although the trial provided more crumbs, it rendered no conclusions. Zhang was found at Mar-a-Lago with four cellphones, a laptop and a thumb drive. A search of her hotel room revealed more electronics, credit cards and about $8,000 in cash. The electronics included a signal detector used to locate hidden video or audio recorders.

Read More: Security at Trump’s Club Scrutinized Following Arrest

Zhang, who was charged with making false statements to a federal officer and entering a federal restricted area, became part of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation into whether Chinese operatives were targeting Trump and Mar-a-Lago to get information about the administration’s policies on China, according to a person familiar with the probe.

The trespassing case appeared to turn on whether Zhang actually had, or thought she had, a legitimate reason to be at Mar-a-Lago. Evidence from her iPhone 7 showed she had entered into a $20,000 contract to travel to Mar-a-Lago for a networking event.

But the prosecution also showed evidence that she’d been alerted of the cancellation of the event before she left China. When questioned by a Secret Service agent, she told him she was there to attend the event she knew had been canceled, according to his testimony.

“She clearly knew that she didn’t have authority to be there,” prosecutor Rolando Garcia said in his closing argument Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Zhang inexplicably fired her public defenders and insisted on serving as her own lawyer, even though she lacked an understanding of U.S. legal proceedings. That set the stage for a strange trial.

Read More: Mar-a-Lago Intruder’s Room Had Signal Detector, Cash Hoard

On the first day, Zhang showed up in her prison uniform, despite the convention that criminal defendants wear street clothes so the jury isn’t influenced by their appearance. When the judge asked about it, Zhang said she didn’t have any underwear and preferred the prison uniform because she couldn’t wear her blouse without a bra. The judge called a recess, and she was apparently provided with the necessary articles of clothing.

Zhang objected in vain to the introduction of several pieces of evidence, from photos of Mar-a-Lago to files from her phone, on the grounds that they were “sensitive.” She called no witnesses and mostly refrained from cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses, except to seek basic clarifications.

She did briefly stand for a closing argument, asserting in broken English that she had done nothing wrong.

The case is U.S. v. Zhang, 19-cr-80056, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).

(Updates with Zhang’s reaction. An earlier version corrected location in deckhead.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Levin in Miami at jlevin20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael J. Moore at mmoore55@bloomberg.net, Joe Schneider, Peter Jeffrey

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.