By Zachary Fagenson
FORTLAUDERDALE, Fla (Reuters) – A Chinese national faces sentencing in a federal court on Monday after she was convicted of bluffing her way into U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, sparking fears she could pose an intelligence threat.
Yujing Zhang, 33, was found guilty of lying to a federal officer and trespassing by a U.S. District Court 12-member jury in Fort Lauderdale after a two-day trial in September.
Zhang, who has maintained her innocence, made international headlines in March when she was arrested carrying multiple electronic devices at the Palm Beach resort.
The question of what she was doing at the time remained unanswered as prosecutors offering no explanation in court for her motives.
Zhang’s actions sparked concerns that she might have been a spy. But U.S. experts told Reuters her attempt to enter the club was so clumsy that while she has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, it was hard to believe she was a professional spy.
In a court filing this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia asked District Court Judge Roy Altman to consider an 18-month prison sentence for Zhang rather than the suggested six months in the sentencing guidelines.
Garcia wrote that a stiffer penalty was warranted because of the seriousness of the crimes, the need to deter similar conduct, and because Zhang lied to another federal judge about her finances.
Zhang failed to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman that she had about $40,000 in a brokerage account and nearly $8,000 in cash at her hotel room, Garcia wrote.
“Not only did Zhang lie to the Court but she also lied to practically everyone she encountered in the United States,” he wrote.
On March 30, Zhang passed an initial Secret Service checkpoint by passing herself off as a relative of a member of the same name and telling club security personnel she was going to the pool.
But once she got on the grounds her behaviour, including the taking of a lot of photographs, aroused suspicion.
At one point before she was arrested, Zhang told club personnel that she was there for a nonexistent United Nations Chinese American Association event, federal prosecutors said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis)