Chinese national convicted for trespassing at Trump US resort

September 12, 2019 09:29
A Florida courtroom sketch shows Yujing Zhang, flanked by two US marshals, standing up to leave on Wednesday after she was found guilty of lying to a federal officer and trespassing at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Credit: Daniel Pontet via Reuters

A Chinese national arrested for bluffing her way into US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort, sparking concerns she could pose an intelligence threat, was found guilty on Wednesday of lying to a federal officer and trespassing, Reuters reports.

The woman, Yujing Zhang, 33, stood blinking rapidly as each of the 12 jurors told US District Judge Roy Altman that they agreed with the verdict convicting her on all counts, a decision reached after roughly four hours of deliberation following a two-day trial, the report said.

When she is sentenced on Nov. 22, Zhang faces up to a year in prison, a year of supervised release and a US$1,000 fine for trespassing.

She also faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a US$250,000 fine for lying to a federal agent.

Zhang made international headlines in March when she was arrested carrying multiple electronic devices at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

Baffling behavior marked Zhang’s trial in US District Court in Fort Lauderdale from the start. She insisted on acting as her own lawyer despite Judge Altman’s entreaties.

The central question of what precisely Zhang was doing at the Trump private property remained unanswered, with prosecutors offering no explanation in court for her motives.

Zhang’s actions at the resort sparked concerns that she might have been a spy, though she was charged only with trespassing and making false statements.

Prosecutors focused on trying to prove she used deception to gain unlawful access to private property.

Zhang insisted she was entitled to admission to Mar-a-Lago by way of a contract for which she had paid US$20,000 to attend a US-China economic development event at the resort.

“I did nothing wrong,” she told jurors in halting English in her closing argument. “I did not lie.”

Assistant US Attorney Rolando Garcia countered that Zhang had been notified in advance that the event she had planned to attend had been canceled and that she had demanded her money back.

Garcia also detailed how Zhang allegedly hoodwinked US Secret Service agents to get past resort security checkpoints and onto the property, in part by passing herself off as the relative of an actual club member of the same name.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be there,” Garcia said.

At the time of her arrest, Zhang had four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive and a thumb drive later found to contain “malicious malware” in her possession, the Secret Service said in a court filing.

A search of Zhang’s Palm Beach hotel room reportedly uncovered a device meant to detect hidden cameras and nearly US$8,000 in cash.

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