FORT LAUDERDALE: A Chinese woman was sentenced to eight months in prison in a federal court on Monday after she was convicted of bluffing her way into US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, sparking fears she could pose an intelligence threat.
Yujing Zhang, 33, was found guilty in September of lying to a federal officer and trespassing at the Palm Beach resort by a US District Court 12-member jury in Fort Lauderdale after a two-day trial.
Zhang has already served more than seven-and-a-half months of the eight-month sentence, starting from the time of her arrest. She was also sentenced to two years of supervised release by District Court Judge Roy Altman.
“The evidence was overwhelming that Zhang lied time and time again to the Secret Service agents when she came to Mar-a-Lago,” Altman said during the sentencing hearing.
Zhang, who has maintained her innocence, made international headlines in March when she was arrested carrying multiple electronic devices at the resort.
“I came to the property and just followed the instructions and asked where to go. I don’t think I am lying,” she said in court.
“I came to meet the President and family to just make friends.”
On March 30, Zhang passed an initial Secret Service checkpoint by passing herself off as a relative of a resort member of the same name and telling club security personnel she was going to the pool.
But once she gained access to the grounds her behaviour, including shooting many photographs, aroused suspicion.
At one point before she was arrested, Zhang told club personnel she was there for a United Nations Chinese American Association event, which turned out to be non-existent, federal prosecutors said.
The question of what she was doing at the club remained unanswered as prosecutors offered no explanation in court for her motives.
Zhang’s actions sparked concerns she might have been a spy. But US experts told Reuters her attempt to enter the club was so clumsy that while she has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, it was hard to believe she was a professional spy.
In a court filing this month, Assistant US Attorney Rolando Garcia asked Altman to consider an 18-month prison sentence for Zhang rather than the suggested six months in the sentencing guidelines.
Garcia wrote a stiffer penalty was warranted because of the seriousness of the crimes, the need to deter similar conduct, and because Zhang lied to another federal judge about her finances.