Chinese Woman Accused of Mar-a-Lago Trespass Set for Trial - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Chinese Woman Accused of Mar-a-Lago Trespass Set for Trial

Zhang was arrested March 30 after she allegedly lied to get past a Secret Service agent guarding Mar-a-Lago

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Chinese Woman Arrested at Mar-a-Lago in Court

    A Monday bond hearing was adjourned until next week for a Chinese woman accused of lying to illegally enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club while carrying a device containing computer malware. Yujing Zhang's hearing was expected to resume next Monday. She will be held without bond until then.

    (Published Monday, April 8, 2019)

    The upcoming trial of a Chinese national on federal charges that she trespassed at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and lied to the Secret Service is potentially a circus wrapped in mystery.

    Rejecting the strong recommendation of U.S. District Judge Roy Altman, Yujing Zhang fired her public defenders in June to act as her own attorney - a longshot move the 33-year-old Shanghai business consultant has struggled with during pretrial hearings setting up Monday's scheduled jury selection.

    Zhang often frustrates Altman by ignoring his questions or answering with non sequiturs. At times she replies in near-fluent English and insists she understands complex legal concepts, but will then say she doesn't understand a simple question and turns to her Mandarin translator.

    "I know full well that you understand what I am saying to you both in English and in Mandarin," Altman told her during an August hearing. "You are trying to play games."

    Chinese National Charged After Entering Mar-a-Lago

    [NATL] Chinese National Charged After Entering Mar-a-Lago

    A 32-year-old woman with two Chinese passports has been charged by the Secret Service for making false statements and entering restricted ground after she illegally gained access to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

    (Published Tuesday, April 2, 2019)

    If that weren't enough, prosecutors have filed under seal secret evidence that they say has national security implications, even though Zhang is not charged with espionage. The Secret Service said when agents detained Zhang at Mar-a-Lago she was carrying a computer, a hard drive, four cellphones and a thumb drive containing malware, although agents later recanted that accusation.

    Agents said Zhang told them she brought the electronics to Mar-a-Lago because she feared they would be stolen if left at her nearby hotel, but in her room they allegedly found a device to detect hidden cameras, computers, $8,000 in cash plus credit and debit cards, all in the open.

    Attempts to contact Zhang in jail, where she is being held without bail, were unsuccessful, and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment. The U.S. attorney's office in Miami declined comment. Zhang could get six years if convicted.

    Her former public defenders are on standby in case she changes her mind about representing herself. They have said she appears mentally competent, but she wouldn't speak to a psychologist. They said Zhang's Chinese relatives told them she has no mental health problems.

    Zhang was arrested March 30 after she allegedly lied to get past a Secret Service agent guarding Mar-a-Lago, saying she was there to use the pool. She made it to the lobby where she told a receptionist she was there for a United Nations friendship event that night and had come early to take pictures. That event had been canceled and prosecutors say Zhang had been informed. The president was staying at Mar-a-Lago that weekend, but was at his nearby golf club when Zhang arrived.

    While there are no statistics, it is rare for defendants charged with serious felonies to represent themselves - go "pro se" in legal parlance - and that's particularly true in federal court. Even with an experienced defense attorney, federal acquittals are rare. According to the Pew Research Center , 90% of federal defendants pleaded guilty in 2018 and 8% had their cases dismissed. Of the 2% who went to trial, eight out of 10 were convicted.

    Footage From 1992 Shows Trump, Epstein at Party

    [NATL] Footage From 1992 Shows Trump, Epstein at Party

    NBC released footage in its archives from 1992 of Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein at a party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The video shows them laughing and pointing as they appear to talk about women at the event, NBC News reported. Trump has said he knew Epstein, but “was not a fan” and they have not spoken in 15 years.

    (Published Wednesday, July 17, 2019)

    University of Florida law professor Michelle Jacobs, a former criminal defense lawyer, and Miami attorney David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, said Altman's job will be more difficult because Zhang doesn't know trial procedure or rules. If she makes a major error that slips by, that could lead to a guilty verdict being thrown out on appeal. Altman will likely slow the trial so Zhang can keep up.

    Weinstein said prosecutors will find the case more difficult because not only do they also have to watch out for reversible errors Zhang might make, their "vanity" is at stake.

    "It is one thing to lose to a defense attorney; it is quite another to lose a case to a pro se defendant," he said.

    Jacobs wondered if Zhang fired her public defenders because she comes from an authoritarian country and thought their job was to help ensure her conviction, even though Altman explained their role numerous times.

    "The expectation might be that the state will do what the state does and whether you participate or not," Jacobs said, "the end of the trial is a foregone conclusion."