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Judge orders lockup of Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago

Sarah Blaskey, Caitlin Ostroff, Jay Weaver and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A federal judge Monday ordered the detention of Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested trying to enter President Donald Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club.

"It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious," Magistrate Judge William Matthewman said at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, adding that he considered Zhang, 33, a flight risk and believed she would return to China if released before trial.

Matthewman said the weight of the evidence against Zhang -- who pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of making false statements to federal officers and entering restricted property -- is "quite strong." Prosecutors had asked to keep her locked up.

Although no allegations of espionage have been made against Zhang, federal prosecutor Rolando Garcia said more charges are still possible. The FBI is treating her case as a national security matter, sources have told the Miami Herald. Her arrest raised questions about security at Mar-a-Lago -- and whether foreign adversaries could seek to penetrate the president's Palm Beach club.

Zhang was stopped at Mar-a-Lago March 30. She said she was there to attend an event and was carrying what the U.S. Secret Service described as a thumb drive containing "malicious malware," as well as several other electronic devices.

But during Monday's hearing, prosecutors acknowledged the malware could have been a "false positive." Garcia said the new findings were based on an FBI analysis of the thumb drive that did not produce the same results as an earlier Secret Service analysis.

 

During the earlier test, the thumb drive was inserted into a computer and automatically started downloading files, something a Secret Service agent described as unusual in court testimony last week. The thumb drive did not start downloading files during the subsequent FBI analysis, Garcia said. Tests are ongoing.

Matthewman asked Garcia Monday how close Zhang got to a Mar-a-Lago computer.

"Within arm's length" of a computer in the club's reception area, Garcia replied.

Garcia also disclosed that messages from Zhang's iPhone showed she learned from an event promoter on March 26 that the Mar-a-Lago gala had been canceled, two days before she flew from China to the United States, something first reported by the Miami Herald.

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