Chinese woman paid $20K for Mar-a-Lago event, attorney says
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
A 32-year-old Chinese woman who was arrested last month at Mar-a-Lago paid $20,000 to a Chinese businessman believing it would allow her to attend an event featuring President Donald Trump’s sister, her attorney told a U.S. magistrate on Monday.
While the receipt Yujing Zhang claims she received for the wire transfer could ultimately help her win her release from the Palm Beach County jail, she now faces additional legal woes. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has revoked her visa.
“Even if a bond was posted, she would go right into INS custody,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia told Magistrate Judge William Matthewman.
With Zhang’s attorneys asking for more time to prove she wouldn’t flee from prosecution on charges that she lied to a federal agent and entered a restricted building, Matthewman agreed to wait until next Monday to decide if the self-described investment consultant will be granted bail.
The magistrate said he would consider evidence Assistant U.S. Public Defender Robert Adler uncovered about money Zhang paid to a company owned by Chinese businessman Charles Lee. But, Matthewman said, he didn’t know how much weight he would give to it.
Other factors, such as Zhang’s lack of ties to the United States, the nature of her crime and her character, would also be considered, Matthewman said.
Garcia portrayed Zhang as a pathological liar who would be indicted, possibly on additional charges, this week. “She lies to everyone she encounters,” he said.
Zhang, who appeared in court with her arms and legs shackled and listened to the proceedings with the help of a Mandarin interpreter, showed no reaction to Garcia’s biting assessment.
Garcia acknowledged there is no evidence Zhang was involved in espionage or was working as a spy for the Chinese government on March 30 when she got through security checkpoints set up to protect President Trump and his family, who were visiting what Trump calls the Winter White House.
“There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered,” Garcia said, referring to a large amount of cash Zhang was carrying and malicious software that was on a device she carried into Mar-a-Lago. The investigation, he said, is ongoing.
Adler, meanwhile, painted Zhang as an innocent woman who believed the $20,000 she paid a man she identified only as “Charles” would allow her to attend “Safari Night,” sponsored by the Palm Beach Gardens-based children’s charity, Young Adventurers. Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump-Grau, was to be the honored guest.
Terry Bomar, head of the charity, told The Palm Beach Post that the gala was canceled after organizers realized it had been hijacked by Cindy Yang. The Wellington woman is a former owner of a Jupiter day spa where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is accused of soliciting prostitution.
To Bomar’s chagrin, Yang promoted the fundraiser on her Chinese-language website as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for “Chinese elites.” A flyer on the website says the event was to be held March 30 and features photos of Trump-Grau and Mar-a-Lago.
Lee, who posted pictures of himself at the United Nations and with notables such as actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had a business that was similar to Yang’s, Adler said. Both peddled access to Trump and other U.S. government officials by promoting events scheduled for Mar-a-Lago, Adler said.
Lee “piggybacked” onto Yang’s promotion of the Young Adventurers event, Adler said. “A series of events Cindy Yang was packaging and promoting (were being) rebundled and repackaged by Charles Lee,” he said.
A newspaper article printed in Chinese by Voice of America describes Lee as secretary of the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association. That is similar to the name of the event Zhang said she was planning to attend when she was arrested, Adler said.
But, Garcia countered, Zhang could have explained her presence at Mar-a-Lago to federal agents. Instead, he said, she lied.
Zhang initially told Secret Service agents she wanted to use the pool at the club. When club managers thought she was related to a member, they waved her in. However, once inside the club, Zhang claimed she was there to attend what turned out to be a nonexistent event.
When her ever-changing stories didn’t add up, she was arrested and charged with offenses that carry a maximum five-year prison sentence, Garcia said.
Further, he said, Zhang lied to Matthewman during her first court appearance last week when she said the only money she had in the United States was roughly $5,000 in a Wells Fargo bank account.
When agents searched her room at the Colony Hotel, they discovered she had $7,620 in U.S. currency and Chinese money worth $663 in the United States. Agents also found a cellphone, nine USB drives, five SIM cards plus a device that can be used to spot hidden cameras.
Those electronic devices were in addition to the four cell phones, a laptop computer, and a thumb drive that agents found in her purse when she was arrested, Garcia said.
An examination of the thumb drive showed it contained malicious software that was unusual and potentially damaging, Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich testified. When another agent tried to examine it, the malware immediately began installing a file on the agent’s computer.
“He said it had never happened (to him) before. It was very out of the ordinary,” Ivanovich said. “He had to immediately stop the analysis and shut down his computer to halt any further corruption.”
Adler pointed out that Zhang tried to show agents an invitation she received to the event. The invitation was on her cell phone and was written in Chinese. Although an interpreter was available, Ivanovich testified that the invitation wasn’t translated.
Further, Ivanovich said there is no video of Zhang’s initial conversation with federal agents, who claim she told them she wanted to use the pool at Mar-a-Lago. There is also no audio of her roughly 4 ½-hour interview with agents before her arrest.
The room at the Secret Service office in West Palm Beach isn’t wired to capture audio. It only records video, Ivanovich said. New to the West Palm Beach office, he explained that he didn’t know that the interview wasn’t being recorded on audiotape until after it was over.
Adler insisted that a communication barrier is at the root of Zhang’s arrest. Zhang didn’t fully understand the agent’s questions, he said.
While a Mandarin-speaking agent was available during parts of the interview, Ivanovich said it was conducted in English. “We all believed she adequately spoke English to conduct an interview with her,” Ivanovich said. “I asked her multiple times if she could understand what I was saying and she answered multiple times that she could.”
At both court appearances, Zhang has asked for an interpreter. When Matthewman asked Zhang if she understood the translator and his decisions, she answered in English: “Yes, I understand.”
Zhang, who said she worked as a consultant to a Shanghai investment business and is trying to start her own investment firm, arrived in the United States on March 28. She flew into the airport in Newark, New Jersey, on a direct flight from Shanghai. It was her fifth visit to the United States following one trip here in July 2016, twice in 2017 and once in September 2018.
Her arrest has raised questions about the Secret Service agency’s ability to protect the president and his family at Mar-a-Lago. In an emailed statement, the agency acknowledged that it has no control over whether members are allowed to enter the exclusive club. But, they said, they control who gets near Trump and his family.
Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, the original headline on this story incorrectly stated that the court revoked Zhang’s visa. The visa was revoked by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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