Mar-a-Lago Intruder Convicted of Deceiving Federal Agents

In this April 15, 2019, court sketch, Yujing Zhang, left, a Chinese woman charged with lying to illegally enter President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, listens to a hearing before a magistrate judge in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Daniel Pontet via AP, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – The Chinese woman charged with lying to the Secret Service to gain access to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club was found guilty Wednesday of making false statements to federal agents and illegal entry to a restricted area.

Roughly five hours deep into deliberation, a 12-member jury in Fort Lauderdale court returned a verdict that could spell federal jail time for self-described Chinese investment consultant Yujing Zhang.

Zhang is facing as much as six years in prison.

She has been in custody since March 30, when she was arrested for allegedly lying her way into Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s sprawling Palm Beach Island resort and club.

Investigators discovered that Zhang had multiple cellphones and a thumb drive in her possession at Mar-a-Lago — along with a small collection of seemingly suspicious electronics in an offsite hotel room — all of which fueled speculation that she may have been engaged in espionage. No charges in that vein have been publicly filed, however.

The two-day trial capped off months of bizarre court proceedings in which Zhang refused to accept the help of public defenders against the urging of presiding U.S. District Judge Roy Altman.

Altman is a Trump appointee who is one of the youngest federal judges in the country.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors called a cavalcade of FBI agents and analysts to the stand, but Zhang declined to cross-examine them.

She delivered a less-than-five-minute closing statement Tuesday evening. It was one of the only moments in the trial where she took steps to defend herself in front of the jury.

“I am a bit nervous,” Zhang said. “I did nothing wrong.”

Zhang reminded the jury of a service contract that, by all accounts, involved her paying $20,000 to a Chinese agent to arrange her trip to a Mar-a-Lago gala.

The March 30 event supposedly would give Zhang and other Chinese attendees an opportunity to rub shoulders with Trump and his family and meet high rollers in the Palm Beach social scene.

“I made contract to go to Mar-a-Lago to go see the president … see his family,” Zhang said in broken English.

According to prosecutors, Zhang was told by the Chinese agent that the event was canceled. But she flew to the United States anyway, went to the posh Palm Beach resort and lied her way in, prosecutors say.

“There was no event. She knew there was no event. … She was bound and determined to get on that property,” prosecutor Rolando Garcia told jurors during his closing argument.

Garcia cited cellphone communications in which the Chinese agent told Zhang, “We can forget about [the Mar-a-Lago event].”

That Chinese booker, who once referred to Zhang by the nickname “gorgeous,” told her there were other events where she could network with wealthy Americans: one with former President Bill Clinton and another involving investor Warren Buffett. The price tag to go to the Buffett-linked event was $20,000 — and jumped up to $60,000 if she wanted a picture with Buffett.

Zhang demanded a refund, telling her associate to “wire it straight to [her] account,” according to the text messages placed into evidence.

Prosecutors told the jury that Zhang, knowing the Mar-a-Lago gala was canceled, flew to the United States in late March and set up shop at the Colony Hotel on Palm Beach Island.

They alleged Zhang hired a driver, scoped out Mar-a-Lago on March 29, and then returned the next day. She was allowed into the property after telling workers at a security checkpoint that she was headed for the pool, prosecutors said. Club staff let her through partly because they believed she might be related to a Mar-a-Lago member also named Zhang.

Zhang was taken to the Mar-a-Lago reception desk, where she was detained when club staff determined she was not an authorized guest. Prosecutors repeatedly pointed out at trial that Zhang was wearing an evening gown.

She had no bathing suit or other clothing to support the notion she was headed to the pool, they argued.

According to court documents, a search of her room at the Colony Hotel turned up $7,500, nine USB drives and a device described in early proceedings as a “signal detector.”

Though prosecutors initially claimed an insidious computer virus was discovered on the thumb drive Zhang had taken into Mar-a-Lago, they walked back that headline-grabbing claim, saying it could have been a “false positive.”

On Tuesday, when the jury was out of sight, Zhang occasionally conferred with public defender Robert Adler, at times smiling and laughing while conversing in English.

Adler argued during a bail hearing in April that the arrest stemmed from a misunderstanding that snowballed. He said that if a Mandarin interpreter had been provided when Zhang was making her way into Mar-a-Lago, the whole fiasco could have been avoided.

Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich noted in the April hearing that when Zhang was detained, he conducted the first phase of his interview with her without a Mandarin-speaking assistant on hand, as he believed Zhang was proficient in English.

Zhang’s arrest came a few days after Democratic lawmakers criticized Trump for allowing Mar-a-Lago to rent out space for meet-and-greet galas in which foreign nationals could essentially buy time and photo opportunities with politicians, business magnates and Trump family members.

That controversy arose after the Miami Herald reported that a promoter named Cindy Yang was selling Chinese nationals high-priced tickets to Mar-a-Lago events, where Trump family members and other high-level politicians would be in attendance. Yang was the former owner of a Florida day spa that made headlines in February when it was raided by police, leading to the arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on a misdemeanor solicitation-of-prostitution charge.

The Miami Herald reported that Yang’s peer in the Chinese networking industry — Charles Lee — was Zhang’s point man for booking the March 30 Mar-a-Lago event.

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