WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A judge here ruled Monday that a Chinese woman must remain jailed following charges that she lied to a federal officer after entering Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort, saying he deemed her a flight risk.
During a hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman appeared swayed by the argument made by federal prosecutors that Yujing Zhang — who authorities said made her way through Mar-a-Lago’s security last month before being arrested carrying multiple cellphones and other electronics — had ulterior motives in accessing the President’s club.
It appeared that “Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious,” Matthewman said during the hearing.
Zhang was indicted by a grand jury, charging her with the same two counts — entering restricted grounds and making a false statement to the Secret Service — she faced previously, according to the indictment filed Friday. On Monday, she entered a plea of not guilty and asked for a jury trial.
Her ability to enter Mar-a-Lago and subsequent arrest heightened questions about security at the resort frequented by the president, where members — who are also his paying customers — and guests can be in the same room as the commander in chief. Intelligence officials have suggested that foreign spies who never see Trump could still find value in a room filled with his aides and associates.
Additional charges in the case are “possible,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia told Matthewman on Monday.
Garcia also amended a statement authorities made previously in the case. While officials have said that Zhang was arrested carrying a thumb drive with malware — or malicious software — on Monday, he said that appeared to be a “false positive.”
At a hearing last week, Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich had testified that when agents inserted the thumb drive into a computer, “a file immediately began to install itself.” But on Monday, Garcia said officials could not replicate the malware problem on a second computer.
Prosecutors have previously suggested that Zhang was deceptive and, during a hearing last week, said she could flee if released. They reiterated that on Monday, and Matthewman said he believed she would go to China if they let her out on bond.
Zhang faces no charges of espionage in the high-profile case, and Garcia said during her hearing last week that there were no allegations she was “a spy or this is espionage.”
Before deciding that she should remain behind bars, Matthewman said: “I have not and shall not consider any political or other irrelevant issues swirling around this case.”
The indictment filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida similarly makes no mention of any espionage elements, noting only that she “knowingly” entered restricted grounds. It goes on to state that she told a Secret Service agent “she was there to attend a ‘United Nations Friendship Event,’ when in truth and in fact, and as the defendant then and there well knew, no such event was scheduled.”
According to the penalty sheet filed with the indictment, she could face up to six years in prison and more than $250,000 in fines if convicted on the two counts.
Zhang’s defense attorney, Robert Adler, declined to comment about the indictment.
Adler had said Zhang had paid a businessman to get into the resort. Adler also asked for time to gather financial support for a release on bond.
On Monday, Zhang’s attorneys unsuccessfully asked the court for bond and said her father was trying to get to the United States from China.
The incident at Mar-a-Lago brought renewed attention to questions about security protocols at the club, where Trump once huddled with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about a national security issue — a ballistic missile test by North Korea — at a table on the terrace, in full view of the resort’s guests.
A little more than a week after Zhang’s arrest, news broke that Randolph D. “Tex” Alles would step down as chief of the Secret Service, though officials said the move was unrelated to the Mar-a-Lago security breach.
In a statement to the Secret Service’s employees last week, Alles said he “was told weeks ago . . . that transitions in leadership should be expected across the Department of Homeland Security.” Alles’s removal came as Trump continued forcing out and reshaping leadership at DHS, which includes the Secret Service along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Secret Service had said in a statement it “does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago,” pointing to the club’s management as responsible for granting access. The agency said proximity to the president occurs only with “additional screening and security measures,” adding that its practices at Mar-a-Lago were similar to how it operated “at any other site temporarily visited by the president or other Secret Service protectees.”
Trump described the breach as a “fluke” and said he was “very happy” with the Secret Service’s protection.
The criminal complaint laid out a strange narrative that preceded Zhang’s arrest. According to the complaint, Zhang made her way through a Mar-a-Lago security checkpoint by showing Chinese passports and saying she was there to go to the swimming pool. When Mar-a-Lago security could not find her on their access list, the club’s employees thought she was related to a member with the same last name and let her onto the property.
Zhang told a receptionist she was there for “a United Nations Chinese American Association event” that evening, but the receptionist determined there was no such event and contacted the Secret Service, an affidavit filed with the complaint said. The affidavit, signed by a Secret Service special agent, says Zhang said she was there for that event, had come early to take photos and, as the interview continued, “became verbally aggressive with agents.”
While she was detained, they found the electronic devices, including the thumb drive, the agent wrote, adding that it contained malware.
Despite her references to visiting the pool, the agent said, they found “no swimming apparel.” A hearing last week revealed the additional electronic equipment officials said they found in her hotel room.