A Chinese national was charged with making false statements to a federal official in order to unlawfully enter Mar-a-Lago while President Donald Trump visited his so-called “Winter White House” last weekend.
According to a 10-page criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Yujing Zhang attempted “to gain access into the Mar-a-Lago club” which is designated a “Restricted Building or Grounds” by the U.S. Secret Service under the terms of a federal statute authorizing such temporary designations.
The filing notes that Zhang told Special Agent Krystle Kerr “that she was there to go to the pool” and subsequently presented “two Republic of China passports as identification.” The passports were then passed on to Mar-a-Lago security who attempted to verify that Zhang was on the club’s “access list.” Zhang said she was “going to the pool” and a manager eventually told security that Zhang was “the last name of a member at the Mar-a-Lago club.”
Zhang was asked if the other Zhang was her father, “but she did not give a definite answer,” the document claims. Zhang was also asked if she was at Mar-a-Lago to meet anyone but allegedly didn’t give a definitive answer to that question either. She was then given access to the property.
The report notes:
Due to a potential language barrier issue, Mar-a-Lago believed her to be the relative of member Zhang and allowed her access onto the property. At this time, Zhang was obliged to pass two more prominently displayed United States Secret Service restricted access warning signs containing [a restricted access warning.]
“Zhang was then picked up by Mar-a-Lago valet driver via golf car shuttle,” the report continues. “At this time the valet driver asked Zhang were she was intending to go on Mar-a-Lago property, but Zhang responded that she didn’t know where she wanted to go. The valet driver then proceeded to driver her to the main reception area.”
Once inside, a receptionist says she repeatedly asked Zhang why she was there and that Zhang eventually told her she was there for a “United Nations Chinese American Association event later in the evening.” The only problem was that no such event existed. The receptionist then went back to the access lists and determined Zhang shouldn’t have been at the club. That’s when the Secret Service got involved.
Zhang then allegedly told Special Agent Samuel Ivanovich she was there in order to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event” and that she came early to “familiarize herself with the property and take pictures.” Zhang then allegedly produced Chinese language materials which she claimed was her invitation to the event.
After explaining there wasn’t any event like that scheduled on the night in question, Ivanovich noted the discrepancy between what Zhang had earlier mentioned about going to the pool and her new story about the United Nations event. After that, Zhang was escorted away for further questioning.
During the initial off-location interview, Zhang was accused of the two crimes she was eventually charged with and apparently “became verbally aggressive with agents” before being detained and moved to a different Secret Service location.
A second interview resulted in Zhang giving the following explanation for why she was visiting Mar-a-Lago:
During the second interview of Zhang, she claimed her Chinese friend “Charles” told her to travel from Shanghai, China to Palm Beach, Florida, to attend this event and attempt to speak with a member of the President’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations.
Zhang said that she had only ever spoken with Charles using the WeChat messaging app. Additionally, Zhang denied ever mentioning going to the pool and said she thought the Mar-a-Lago member Zhang was the name of the person running the nonexistent event.
A resulting search turned up various electronic devices in Zhang’s possession.
Per the filing, Zhang had: “a total of four cellular telephones, one lap top computer, one external hard drive type device, and one thumb drive.” After giving consent for the agents to search the devices, a “preliminary forensic examination of the thumb drive determined it contained malicious malware.”
[image via Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]