FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced a Chinese businesswoman to eight months in prison for trespassing at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lying to Secret Service agents.
U.S. District Judge Roy Altman also ordered that 33-year-old Yujing Zhang be turned over to immigration officials for deportation upon her release. Because she received nearly eight months’ credit for being jailed since her arrest March 30, she has about a week more to serve. Sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of zero to six months, but the law allowed for up to six years.
Altman said trespassing on a government property, particularly one where the president is staying, is a “serious offense.” He also said “the evidence was overwhelming” that Zhang lied to Secret Service agents to get into Mar-a-Lago and when they confronted her.
“She lied time and time again,” Altman said.
Zhang told Altman she went to Mar-a-Lago “to meet the president and family and just make friends.” When an incredulous Altman questioned her about whether she thought she could really meet the Trumps, Zhang laughed loudly and said she hoped to meet other people, too. Zhang then told Altman that the president told reporters that he had invited Zhang to Mar-a-Lago. That never happened, and Altman called that another lie.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia cited Zhang’s falsehoods in arguing for an 18-month sentence, saying Zhang “lied to everybody” to get into Mar-a-Lago, including Secret Service agents, the club’s receptionist and even her taxi driver. Garcia also pointed to the electronics found on her person and in her hotel room.
“That certainly does not suggest she is some misguided tourist. She had an agenda,” Garcia said.
He did not specify what he believed Zhang’s agenda was but said her actions “suggest it was not just to take a photo with a famous person.”
After acting as her own attorney at trial, Zhang allowed federal public defender Kristy Militello to help her at the hearing. Militello told Altman that Zhang had a “fantastical idea” that she could form a business partnership with the president, whom “she deeply admired,” or his family. She said Mar-a-Lago has no rule against carrying any number of electronics. She said Zhang should be sentenced to the eight months she has already served.
When Zhang was arrested, she was carrying four cellphones, a computer and an external hard drive and her hotel contained more electronics and cash. That led to speculation she might be a spy, but she was never charged with espionage.
Instead, text messages outlined at her trial and posted to her court file after her conviction suggest she hoped to meet the president or his family to discuss possible business deals, along with other U.S. executives.
Zhang, who Altman said owns a $1.5 million house in China, paid $20,000 in February to “Charles,” a man she knew only online, to attend a Chinese-American friendship event at Mar-a-Lago on March 30. The Mar-a-Lago event promised a photo with the president or a member of his family.
Zhang’s former public defenders believe “Charles” is Charles Lee, a Chinese national who ran the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which is not affiliated with the U.N.
Charles texted Zhang in mid-March that the Mar-a-Lago event had been canceled but he could get her into other events featuring Bill and Hillary Clinton or billionaire Warren Buffett.
Instead, Zhang demanded a refund. Prosecutors said this proved she knew the Trump meet-and-greet was off and her arrival at Mar-a-Lago wasn’t a misunderstanding.
Zhang flew to the United States on March 28. Two days later, a taxi dropped her off at the Secret Service screening area across from Mar-a-Lago. The president and his family were visiting the club, although he was playing golf at his nearby course and Zhang was never near him.