WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Saying he believed that Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old Chinese woman accused of lying to get into Mar-a-Lago last month, was “up to something nefarious” a federal magistrate denied her bond on Monday.
The ruling by U.S. Magistrate William Matthewman followed Zhang’s entry of a plea of not guilty to an indictment charging her with lying to a federal agent and gaining access to a restricted building.
Nonetheless, Matthewman ruled Zhang a flight risk and cited the “very troubling” and “quite strong” evidence against her.
“Although the offenses charged against Ms. Zhang do no include a crime or violence, or sex trafficking or terrorism or a minor victim or a controlled substance or a firearm … nonetheless these are very serious charges against Ms. Zahan which appear to have a direct nexus of an intent to access” a building where the president of United States and his family were located, the magistrate said. He described her possession of multiple electronic devices as “extremely troubling to the court.”
Matthewman added he didn’t believe that Zhang brought multiple devices, including four cellphones, a thumb drive and laptop, into Mar-a-Lago because she was afraid they would be stolen from her room at the Colony Hotel. A search of the room found she kept $8,000, credit cards and other computer devices.
“Her alleged innocent explanation is refuted by what she left behind in her hotel room,” he said. It appears she was “up to something nefarious when she attempted to gain access to Mar-a-Lago,” Matthewman said.
The charges carry a maximum five-year sentence and mandatory deportation. A federal prosecutors said additional charges are “possible.”
Federal prosecutors said during the hearing on Monday that:
—An examination of Zhang’s cellphones showed she knew there was no “United Nations Friendship” event on March 30 when she tried to gain access to Mar-a-Lago. An analysis of Zhang’s cellphones showed the man she identified as “Charles” told her that the Mar-a-Lago event was canceled two days before she flew from Shanghai to Palm Beach, prosecutors said.
—A second analysis of the alleged malicious software on Zhang’s thumb drive produced different results. The first analysis, which made them think it was malware, may have been an error. It my not have been malicious after all, prosecutors said. Another analysis of the thumb drive is being done in Washington, D.C.
—Prosecutors says Zhang was “within arm’s reach” of computers in the reception area of Mar-a-Lago.
Zhang was indicted on the charges on Friday.
Zhang’s attorney said Zhang tried to show Secret Service agents the invitation she received to the Mar-a-Lago event but it was written in Mandarin and they couldn’t read it, and she reiterated that the episode was a misunderstanding.
“The sad fact of this case is that if a Mandarin interpreter had been provided at the first security checkpoint (outside Mar-a-Lago) we might not be here today,” her attorney, Kristy Militello, Assistant Public Defender, said.
“We will submit that there were general misunderstandings,” Militello added. But, she has no criminal record, she has a graduate degree, owns a home in Shanghai. “There are no known factors that she is a danger to the community. … She is not a serious risk of flight,” she said.
Zhang’s father has offered to post the bond and will travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach County to sign the documents, Militello stated. She has agreed to be on house arrest with electronic monitoring. “She is someone who follow instructions. She is obedient,” Militello added.
“I have not considered and will not consider any political issues that may be swirling around this case,” Matthewman said after prosecutors and Zhang’s attorney spoke. “She is innocent until proven guilty.”
Matthewman lamented that information about Zhang’s background is limited. But, he said, she is “obviously very intelligent.” Further, he said, she has no family ties in the United States.
Given that she had nearly $8,000 in her hotel room and owns a home in Shanghai, Matthewman said she clearly has access to money that would allow her to leave the country.
The federal pretrial services agency, which review Zhang’s case, recommended that she remain in jail, Matthewman noted. Further, he said, because there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China, if she flees, there is no way to bring her back.
“Ms. Zhang is a 33-year-old young woman with no ties to the U.S. and frankly no reason to stay here in the United States if she is released,” Matthewman concluded.
Noting that Zhang had $8,000 cash, a device that could detect hidden cameras and a thumb drive that contained malicious software, federal prosecutors had urged Matthewman not to allow the Chinese national to post bond.
She has been held since her March 30 arrest while President Donald Trump and his family were visiting the exclusive club that Trump calls the Southern White House.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia called Zhang a serial liar. “She lies to everyone she encounters,” he said at Zhang’s initial appearance last week.
Zhang’s attorney, Assistant U.S. Public Defender Robert Adler, countered at the time that Zhang had a legitimate reason to visit Mar-a-Lago.
She paid Chinese businessman Charles Lee $20,000 to attend an event that was scheduled at the exclusive club. She didn’t know “Safari Night,” a gala to benefit the Palm Beach Gardens charity Young Adventurers, had been canceled, he said.
The event was canceled when organizers learned it had been hijacked by Cindy Yang, former owner of a Jupiter day spa where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is accused of soliciting prostitution, a leader of the nonprofit told The Palm Beach Post.
Yang had promoted the Young Adventurers event on her Chinese-language website, which sells access to top U.S. officials. Lee had a similar business and was pedaling access to the event on is website as well, Adler claimed. Lee’s website was recently taken down.
A flier on Yang’s web page promoted a March 30 event at Mar-a-Lago. It featured pictures of the club and Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump-Grau. The president’s sister was to be the honored guest at the Young Adventurers fundraiser.
Garcia claimed Zhang got through the first security checkpoint by claiming she wanted to use the club pool. Believing she was related to one of the members, club managers waved her in. Later, they summon Secret Service agents when Zhang said she was at the club to attend what was a nonexistent event.
When she was arrested, agents found she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive that contained software that tried to infect an agent’s computer when it was tested, Garcia said.
While Zhang had told the court the only money she had was $5,000 in a Wells Fargo account, when agents searched her room they discovered $8,000 cash, credit cards, nine USB drives, five SIM cards and a device that can be used to detect hidden cameras, Garcia said.
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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): Yujing Zhang