Feds Say Accused Mar-a-Lago Intruder Had Trove of USB Drives

In this Nov. 24, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is seen in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – The Chinese woman accused of illegally entering President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club armed with malicious software had a signal detector, $7,500 in hundred-dollar bills and nine USB drives stashed in her hotel room at the time of her arrest, a Secret Service agent said at a hearing Monday.

In this artist sketch, Yujing Zhang, left, listens during a hearing Monday in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Daniel Pontet via AP)

In blue prison clothes, Yujing Zhang sat stone-faced with her slender arms shackled tight and her hands cupped together during the detention hearing at the West Palm Beach federal courthouse. Zhang, believed to be 32 years old, listened to the proceedings through a Mandarin interpreter.

Zhang was arrested March 30 after entering Trump’s sprawling Palm Beach club allegedly carrying four cell phones, a laptop and a thumb drive with malicious software on it. Though she had told the Secret Service at the first security checkpoint at the posh club that she wanted to go swimming, agents ultimately found no bathing suit in her possession, prosecutors allege.

It was revealed Monday that federal agents believe the malware on her thumb drive was designed to infect computer systems upon insertion.

Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich testified that when a computer analyst for the government tested the thumb drive, the malware began attacking his device.

“As [the analyst] initiated his preliminary examination, a file began to immediately install onto his computer,” Ivanovich said, claiming “this has never happened before” to the analyst.

“He had to … stop the analysis and shut down his computer in order to avoid further corruption,” Ivanovich testified.

Zhang’s initial detention came after the Mar-a-Lago club’s front desk staff determined that the event she claimed to be attending was not on the schedule. She had been allowed as far as the reception area because club staff believed she might be related to a club member also named Zhang, a common Chinese surname.

Ivanovich said he interviewed Zhang for roughly four hours at a West Palm Beach Secret Service office following her initial detention at Mar-a-Lago. Trump was visiting the club the weekend of Zhang’s alleged intrusion but did not have any interaction with her, according to U.S. Secret Service.

When agents searched her room at the high-priced Colony Hotel on Palm Beach Island, they found her trove of USB drives, five cellphone subscriber tabs commonly known as SIM cards, and a large amount of cash, the agent said. She had $7,500 in one hundred dollar bills and more than $600 in Chinese currency, he testified.

A signal detector — a device used for searching for audio bugs and surreptitious recording equipment — was also found in the room. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia said Zhang should be held without bond because she is, as he framed it, a serious flight risk.

“What’s indicative of the risk of flight is … that she lies to everyone she encounters,” Garcia told U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman.

The prosecutor claimed that in addition to misleading agents about her reason for being at Mar-a-Lago, Zhang downplayed the amount of cash she had at her disposal during her initial court appearance. 

Garcia noted that the United States has revoked her visa, meaning that even if she is granted bond in these criminal proceedings, she would be subject to detention by immigration authorities.

He said preliminary review of her myriad electronic devices “does not support” her claim that she was there for an event.

The prosecutor clarified that he and his team are exploring whether Zhang was planning to engage in spy activity, but no espionage-related charges have yet been filed.

Under the active criminal complaint, Zhang is charged with lying to federal agents about her reasons for being at the club and accessing an area restricted due to a presidential visit.

Her public defender Bob Adler insisted Zhang traveled to Mar-a-Lago to attend an event promoted by an associate named Charles Lee. Promotional materials for the event indicated Trump’s sister was supposed to be in attendance, Adler told the court.

The public defender claimed Zhang wired $20,000 to Lee’s Peace and Friendship Management company as payment to attend the event and enjoy access to the high-profile attendees. 

According to the criminal complaint, Zhang told agents Lee asked her to travel from Shanghai to Florida to attend the event and try to speak with a member of the president’s family about Chinese-American foreign relations.

The Miami Herald reported that an event scheduled for March 30 at Mar-a-Lago was cancelled after it was revealed that one of its promoters, Cindy Yang, used to own a Jupiter massage parlor now at the center of national media attention over a high-profile police sting, which yielded solicitation of prostitution charges against New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and others.

The Herald reported that websites run by both Lee and Yang — to sell Chinese nationals access to Mar-a-Lago events — have gone offline in the wake of the national media reports on Yang.

During Monday’s hearing, Zhang’s public defender pressed Agent Ivanovich on why there was no audio recording of the Secret Service’s interview with her.

The agent, who was transferred to West Palm Beach from Miami last January, responded that he was informed “after the fact” that the room used for the interview had not been set up for audio recording. 

Defending the decision to begin the interview without a Mandarin-speaking agent on hand, the agent testified that Zhang showed a strong ability to read and speak in English, and that she confirmed in English that she understood the questions being asked of her.

Zhang said in court last week that she works as a consultant in the investment industry and owns a $1.3 million home in China.  

The prosecutor Garcia told the judge Monday: “To say there is incomplete information about her financial assets is an understatement.”

Judge William Matthewman continued the hearing until next Monday, extending his order that Zhang remain in pretrial custody without bond for now.

Prosecutors said they expect an indictment within the next week.   

In separate letters to the FBI, Democratic senators have pressed the bureau to review Yang’s event promotions at Mar-a-Lago and the club’s security protocols in light of Zhang’s alleged illegal entry.

The Secret Service has stated that it screens visitors for weapons but that the final decision on who enters the club is made by club management.

Mar-a-Lago, a private club and resort that frequently rents out space for private events, sits on an oceanside property in a high-priced residential enclave in Palm Beach County. Acquired by Trump in the mid-1980s, the club has been a favorite retreat for him throughout his presidency. It has also served as a meeting place for Trump and foreign leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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