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Mar-a-Lago receptionist, not Secret Service, recognized Chinese woman as likely intruder

Jay Weaver and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

He also said that Zhang indicated she went by the name "Veronica" in the United States.

Federal agents later searched her iPhone 7 and discovered that Zhang had received text messages from "Charles," who told her that the March 30 event had been canceled days before she left China for the United States. But Zhang flew from Shanghai via Newark to Palm Beach on March 28 anyway, Ivanovich said.

He said she first stayed at the Red Roof Inn in West Palm Beach that day, and then switched over to the upscale Colony Hotel in Palm Beach the following day. After her arrest, agents searched her hotel room and found a bevy of electronic devices, including a hidden-camera detector, along with $7,600 in U.S. currency and $600 in Chinese currency.

The Miami Herald has reported that the man who sold Zhang her ticket is a Chinese entrepreneur named Charles Lee. Lee is part of a burgeoning industry that sells access to elite events around the world, including some held at Trump properties, to China's status-conscious, camera-ready business class. The Safari Night Zhang hoped to attend had been promoted on social media by Lee as well as by Cindy Yang, a South Florida business woman involved in the same industry. The Safari Night was canceled after the Herald revealed Yang was peddling access at Trump properties and political fundraisers.

As the government makes its case, the second day of Zhang's trial, at least initially, proved less bizarre than the first.

The defendant showed up for Monday morning jury selection in her jail uniform, leading Altman, the judge, to send her back to change. Then she delivered only the briefest of opening statements after Altman coaxed her into addressing jurors, saying: "Good afternoon, grand jury. What I want to say ... I don't believe I did anything wrong. And thank you, USA."

 

Zhang, who has no legal training, has refused assistance from the Federal Public Defender's Office, which has attorneys available to her in the courtroom. She missed opportunities Monday to exploit potential weaknesses in the prosecution's case, including pointing out that she was originally allowed into Mar-a-Lago because club staff thought she was related to a member. She also had a chance to seize on a cab driver who could not positively identify her in court from a distance of less than 10 feet. The driver had testified that he drove Zhang around Palm Beach on March 29 and said she told him she did not have an invitation to Mar-a-Lago.

But instead of arguing her case, Zhang stayed mute.

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