New Revelations in Case of Chinese Businesswoman Arrested at Mar-a-Lago

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The international finance consultant accused of illegally entering President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida knew several days before she traveled to the United States that the gala she had paid to attend had been canceled, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

The disclosure raised new questions about the intentions of the woman, Yujing Zhang, 33, who told the authorities she had come to attend a United Nations Chinese Friendship Association event associated with a gala that night. Instant messages recovered from one of her cellphones revealed that Ms. Zhang had been told even before she left Shanghai that the Mar-a-Lago event had been canceled, Rolando Garcia, an assistant United States attorney, told the court.

Ms. Zhang had texted back, Mr. Garcia said, “wanting to know why the event was canceled.”

Magistrate Judge William Matthewman of the Federal District Court in West Palm Beach rejected Ms. Zhang’s bid to be released on bail, concluding that there was a substantial risk she could flee the country if released before her trial on charges of entering restricted property and making false statements to a federal agent.

“It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious,” the judge said.

But prosecutors also revealed that they were no longer certain that a thumb drive Ms. Zhang was carrying when she entered the resort on March 30 was infected with “malicious malware,” as they had earlier claimed.

At a hearing last week, a Secret Service agent testified that when Ms. Zhang’s thumb drive was inserted into an agency computer, it immediately began to install files on the computer. The analysis was quickly halted to “stop the corruption,” the agent, Samuel Ivanovich, told the court.

But Mr. Garcia said on Monday that when the agency conducted a deeper analysis of the thumb drive, the device did not repeat what had happened the first time, “which suggests that it could have been a false positive” for the presence of malware.

Defense lawyers said that Ms. Zhang, a Chinese citizen with a degree from Shanghai University, never tried to deceive Secret Service agents and was admitted to the members-only club on a weekend when Mr. Trump and his family were in residence after the club management determined that her surname — one of the most common in China — matched that of a Mar-a-Lago member.

“The sad fact is that if a Mandarin interpreter had been provided at that first Secret Service checkpoint, we very well would not be here today,” said Kristy Militello, one of Ms. Zhang’s federal public defenders.

Judge Matthewman said his decision to deny bail was based in part on the sheer variety of electronics Ms. Zhang carried with her, including a laptop, an external hard drive and four cellphones. A sweep of Ms. Zhang’s room at the Colony Hotel near the resort turned up a device used to detect hidden cameras, nine jump drives and five SIM cards, the authorities said, along with 75 $ 100 bills.

“The added fact that she was one to two feet, arm’s length, of a computer at Mar-a-Lago is also extremely concerning,” Judge Matthewman said. “The nature of the crimes and the charges are very serious and very troubling.”

Federal prosecutors have emphasized that Ms. Zhang is not being charged with espionage.

The false statement charge contained in a grand jury indictment returned on Friday also concerns Ms. Zhang’s statement to a federal agent that she had come to use the pool, though she had no swimsuit with her.

Ms. Zhang, who owns a home and a BMW back in China, had paid for a vacation package that included a banquet at Mar-a-Lago. But the gala she had paid to attend had been canceled when news outlets revealed that the Florida woman who had a role in promoting the event had once owned a massage parlor where the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, was charged with paying for sex acts.

The former owner, Cindy Yang, had sold the parlor and become active in Republican circles in Florida. She bundled donations for Mr. Trump, including some that had the appearance of being illegal donations by straw donors. The event she had been selling tickets to was canceled in the wake of the scandal.

Ms. Zhang lowered her head and glanced at papers in front of her when she heard the news that she was going to be held in jail.

Her lawyers did not stop to speak to reporters after the hearing and did not respond to prosecutors’ assertion that Ms. Zhang had known the event she planned to attend had been canceled.

Last week, though, they emphasized that there was little evidence to support the charges in the indictment.

“In order to gain entry, the only thing Ms. Zhang did was give a very common Chinese name and make no claims she was there as a member or family member,” her lawyer, Robert E. Adler said. “I don’t understand how this would support a trespassing charge after making no misrepresentations.”

Judge Matthewman said that if Ms. Zhang was convicted of lying to a federal agent, she would face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $ 250,000 fine.

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