Last month, a Chinese woman was arrested after gaining entry to President Donald Trump’s private Florida club Mar-a-Lago with a number of suspicious items on her person, including four cell phones and a flash drive determined to contain “malicious” malware, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ELLE.com.
Back in her hotel room, authorities reportedly discovered a signal detector, other electronic devices, and thousands of dollars in cash. Yujing Zhang, 32, was arrested on March 30, and charged with lying to a federal officer and with accessing a restricted area. On April 8, Zhang made a filing with several exhibits, including her passports and a visa.
Trump has defended the security breach, calling it a “fluke,” but the case has highlighted major potential security flaws at his club, known as the “winter White House,” where he has met with world leaders and conducted business. Here’s everything you need to know about the case.
Zhang reportedly told security she was there to go swimming.
She showed two Chinese passports to get through security, according to the complaint filed by Secret Service special agent Samuel Ivanovich, and said she was checking out the grounds of Mar-a-Lago before attending a “United Nations Friendship Event” between China and the U.S.
Zhang was allegedly picked up by Mar-a-Lago valet driver via golf cart shuttle and taken to the main reception area of Mar-a-Lago, where a receptionist asked why she was there.
“Zhang was asked if the true member . . . was her father, but she did not give a definitive answer,” according to the criminal complaint obtained by ELLE. “Zhang additionally did not give a definitive answer when asked if she was there to meet with anyone. 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.”
When staff realized the friendship event didn’t even exist, she was escorted off of Mar-a-Lago property for questioning. According to the complaint, she became “verbally aggressive with agents” and she was detained.
Authorities allegedly found four cellphones, a flash drive, and a thumb drive infected with malware in her possession
A preliminary forensic examination of the flash drive determined it contained “malicious” malware, according to the complaint.
Assistant United States Attorney Rolando Garcia said that when searching Zhang’s hotel room, investigators also found another cellphone and a radio frequency device to detect hidden cameras, according to The New York Times.
During a bond hearing at the U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Garcia revealed Zhang also had nine USB drives and five SIM cards stashed in her room at the Colony Hotel. She had several debit cards and around $8,000 in cash, including about $700 in Chinese currency.
According to the Times, Zhang told authorities that she had four phones with her, because she was afraid to leave them in her hotel room. “Someone who is afraid of her property being stolen at the hotel does not leave so much cash and credit cards in a hotel room,” Garcia said in response, according to the newspaper.
She was reportedly not carrying any “lock-picking or eavesdropping gear”
That’s according to The New York Times. However, Ivanovich, reportedly said during testimony that the computer analyst who reviewed her devices said her thumb drive immediately began installing malware.
“He stated that he had to immediately stop the analysis and shut off his computer to halt the corruption,” Mr. Ivanovich said, according to the Times.
At the time, Trump was golfing nearby
There is no indication the president saw Zhang or interacted with her, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper spoke with Palm Beach writer Laurence Leamer, author of Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace, who said that while guests cannot enter Trump’s private quarters, they can probably walk past the door to it, if they make it past reception.
“You can go anywhere. You’re in the living room,” Leamer told the Post. “There’s no checkpoints once you’re in there.”
Trump reportedly defended the security measures at Mar-a-Lago.
“No, I’m not concerned at all. I have… We have very good control,” he said, according to CBS News. “I think that was just a fluke situation and I think that the person sitting at the front desk did a very good job.”
Zhang came to the U.S. on March 28 from Shanghai
Her B-1 visa (temporary business visitor visa) has been revoked. She arrived in Newark on a flight from Shanghai on March 28, according to CNN, and went to Mar-a-Lago two days later.
Garcia reportedly called Zhang a “serious flight risk” who “lies to everyone that she encounters.”
She has not yet entered a plea to the criminal charges
Prosecutors plan to formally indict Zhang in the coming week, according to CNN. She has not been charged with any offenses that allude to spying, reports the outlet, but the FBI is investigating Zhang’s alleged actions as part of an international espionage effort.
On April 8, Zhang made a filing with exhibits including passports and a visa.