Federal prosecutors have filed charges against a woman carrying Chinese passports who they accused of illegally entering President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in late March.
Yujing Zhang claimed a friend had asked her to fly from Shanghai to the club to try to speak to a member of Trump’s family about economic relations between the US and China, according to the complaint.
Zhang initially gained access to the property on March 30 through an apparent miscommunication with members of Mar-a-Lago security.
She told a US Secret Service agent at the entrance she was there to “go to the pool,” and produced two passports, according to the complaint. Mar-a-Lago security subsequently admitted her.
But staff quickly became suspicious when she didn’t know where she wanted to go inside the property. She told a receptionist she was there to attend a non-existent “United Nations Chinese American Association” event that evening.
After agents were alerted to Zhang’s presence, she told them she was there to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event”between the United States and China, and produced what she claimed was an invitation to the event, the complaint says. But “agents were unable to read it as it was in Chinese.” No such event was scheduled to take place on the property at that time.
Trump was staying at Mar-a-Lago on that date, though he was not on the property at the time of Zhang’s alleged visit.
After she was detained, agents found she had multiple electronic devices including four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external “hard drive type” device and a thumb drive.
A preliminary investigation found malicious malware on the thumb drive, prosecutors say.
Late Tuesday, US Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Schall said the two passports Zhang was carrying were from the People’s Republic of China. The complaint had indicated they were from the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan.
“Information presented to the court indicates that the defendant is from the People’s Republic of China, not Republic of China (Taiwan), and they were PRC passports,” Schall said in an email.
When asked about the incident Wednesday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said he had “no information” on Zhang’s arrest.
The complaint raises numerous questions about Zhang’s purpose on the property. When agents interviewed her, 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,” according to the complaint.
Agents tried to find out more about “Charles,” but Zhang claimed she had contact with him only through WeChat, a messaging service that is popular in China.
“Due to a potential language barrier issue,” the complaint says, Mar-a-Lago believed her to be a relative of a member.
But during the interviews with agents, the complaint states, she “exhibited a detailed knowledge of, and ability to converse in and understand even subtle nuances of, the English language.”
“For example, as agents were attempting to obtain written consent for examination of electronic devices found in her possession, Zhang read the entire form in English out loud to agents,” it says.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida charged her Monday with one count of making a false statement to a federal officer and one count of entering restricted property.
Zhang made a brief initial appearance in Florida federal court Monday where she was advised of the charges against her and the possible penalties she faced. She is due back in court for a detention hearing on April 8.
In a statement late Tuesday, the US Secret Service said Mar-a-Lago club management is responsible for deciding who is allowed access to the property, noting that “this access does not afford an individual proximity to the President or other Secret Service protectees.”
“While the Secret Service does not determine who is permitted to enter the club, our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property,” the statement said.
It added that “with the exception of certain permanently protected facilities, such as the White House, the practice used at Mar-a-Lago is no different than that long-used at any other site temporarily visited by the President or other Secret Service protectees.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Mar-a-Lago staff admitted Zhang to the property and that Zhang told Mar-a-Lago staff she was there to attend a United Nations Chinese American Association event, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint also states that Mar-a-Lago staff, not the Secret Service, believed Zhang was related to a club member.
This story was also updated to correct the attribution of the country of the passports Zhang was carrying.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.