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Jury to weigh trespassing case against Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago

Jury to weigh trespassing case against Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club is shown ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., August 31, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo -
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(Reuters) – A federal court jury was due to begin deliberations on Wednesday in the trespassing trial of a Chinese woman accused of hoodwinking her way past U.S. Secret Service agents to gain illegal entry to President Donald Trump’s Florida resort.

The central question of what precisely Yujing Zhang, 33, was doing at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club on March 30 remained unanswered as prosecutors and the defendant, acting as her own lawyer, delivered their opposing summations of the case on Tuesday, capping two days of trial testimony.

Zhang actions at the luxurious Palm Beach resort sparked concerns that she might have been a spy, though she was charged only with trespassing and making false statements. Prosecutors offered no explanation in court for her motives.

They focussed instead on trying to prove she used deception to gain unlawful access to private property. She could face up to six years in prison if the 12-member jury finds her guilty.

Zhang, who prosecutors said was carrying various electronic devices when arrested, insisted she was entitled to admission to Mar-a-Lago by way of a contract for which she had paid $20,000 to attend a U.S.-China economic development event at the resort.

“I did nothing wrong,” she told jurors in halting English. “I did not lie.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia countered that Zhang had been notified in advance that the event she had planned to attend was cancelled and that she had demanded her money back.

Rolando also detailed how Zhang allegedly bluffed her way through Secret Service and resort security checkpoints and onto the property, in part by passing herself off as the relative of an actual club member of the same name.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be there,” Rolando said.

Earlier on Tuesday, front-desk Mar-a-Lago receptionist Ariela Grumaz testified that Zhang “was acting very weird and strange” during her March 30 visit.

The Chinese national ignored a “no filming” sign and, using her cell phone, captured video of the ornate lobby as she strolled inside, raising suspicions and prompting Grumaz to urge security personnel to watch her.

Wearing an evening dress in the early afternoon, Zhang began texting on her cellphone, and Grumaz asked her to leave, she said, recounting that Zhang calmly walked outside and was immediately surrounded by Secret Service agents.

At the time of her arrest, Zhang had four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive device and a thumb drive in her possession, the Secret Service said in a court filing. The thumb drive was found to contain “malicious malware,” the Secret Service said.

    A search of Zhang’s Palm Beach hotel room reportedly uncovered a device meant to detect hidden cameras and nearly $8,000 in cash.

The Chinese foreign ministry has said it had no knowledge of any connection between Zhang and the Beijing government and was leaving it to U.S. authorities to “handle the case in accordance with the law, fairly and appropriately.”

(Reporting by Erik Bojnansky in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Barbara Goldberg and Steve Gorman; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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