FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - A woman charged with bluffing her way into U.S. President Donald Trump’s Florida resort while carrying multiple electronic devices, sparking a probe as to whether the Chinese national posed an intelligence threat, goes on trial this week.
Jury selection begins on Monday for Yujing Zhang’s trial on charges of making false statements to a federal officer and trespassing on restricted property.
Zhang, 33, has made the unusual decision to act as her own lawyer during her trial before U.S. District Judge Roy Altman in Fort Lauderdale.
The Chinese national has spent the past five months in pretrial detention. If convicted, she faces up to six years in a federal prison.
In an incident that raised concerns about security at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, Zhang was carrying multiple electronic devices when she was arrested in April after bluffing her way onto the property.
After detaining her, investigators found in Zhang’s possession four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive device and a thumb drive, the Secret Service said in a court filing. Initial examination of the thumb drive determined it contained “malicious malware,” the Secret Service said.
Some U.S. experts say her attempt to enter the club was so clumsy that while she has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, it is hard to believe she was a professional spy.
Zhang came from a modest background and, inspired by Trump’s claims to be a self-made billionaire, strove to climb to a higher status, according to joint reporting by the Miami Herald and the South China Morning Post. She spent lavishly on travel packages to Trump-branded businesses, the newspapers reported.
Her flight from Shanghai to the United States on March 28 was part of a scheme to meet the Trumps.
But the best-laid plans soon fell apart. Zhang told U.S. Secret Service agents she was at Mar-a-Lago to attend a charity event that prosecutors allege she knew was canceled.
After the trove of electronics was found on Zhang, a search of her Palm Beach hotel room reportedly uncovered a device meant to detect hidden cameras and nearly $8,000 in cash.
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Marguerita Choy