Tuesday 23 April 2019

Woman charged with 'bluffing' her way into Trump's Florida resort was 'up to something nefarious', court hears

Yujing Zhang (L), charged with bluffing her way into President Donald Trump's Florida resort, appears at her hearing at the U.S. federal court in this courtroom sketch, in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Pontet
Yujing Zhang (L), charged with bluffing her way into President Donald Trump's Florida resort, appears at her hearing at the U.S. federal court in this courtroom sketch, in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Pontet

Zachary Fagenson

A Chinese woman charged with bluffing her way into U.S. President Donald Trump's Florida resort last month was denied bail on Monday by a federal judge who said he believed she was "up to something nefarious."

Yujing Zhang, who was carrying four cell phones and a laptop computer when arrested, pleaded not guilty at her arraignment and detention hearing on Monday at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Zhang (33) was formally indicted on Friday on charges of making false statements to a federal officer and entering or remaining in a restricted area. The charges carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.

During the hearing, a federal prosecutor said Zhang could face more charges and Magistrate Judge William Matthewman denied her request for bond.

Judge Matthewman said he was concerned Zhang told U.S. Secret Service agents she was at Mar-a-Lago to attend a charity event that prosecutors allege she knew was cancelled.

He was also troubled by the number of electronic devices she was carrying when arrested by the U.S. Secret Service.

Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)

“It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious when she unlawfully attempted to gain access to Mar-a-Lago," Judge Matthewman said.

"The fact she was within arm's reach of a computer at Mar-a-Lago is also extremely concerning."

Zhang has not been indicted on espionage charges. The FBI is examining whether she has links to intelligence agencies in China or political influence operations, two U.S. government sources have told Reuters.

Zhang was arrested on March 30 after giving conflicting reasons for being at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach during one of Trump's weekend visits, an incident that renewed concerns about security at the club.

Trump was not on the premises at the time.

Zhang was briefly allowed onto the property after staff mistakenly thought she might be the daughter of a club member.

She aroused suspicions by variously telling Secret Service agents and Mar-a-Lago reception staff that she wanted to use the pool and that she was there for an event that did not appear on the day's schedule, according to prosecutors.

Federal public defender Kristy Militello said there were "genuine misunderstandings" in the case and Zhang, who works in investment finance in China, was not a serious flight risk.

Reuters

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