Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla.Doug Mills/The New York Times
A 32-year-old woman from China carrying four cellphones and a thumb drive infected with malware gained access to Mar-a-Lago during President Trump’s visit to the Florida resort over the weekend, federal court records show.
The woman, identified as Yujing Zhang, had arrived at the Palm Beach resort and showed two Chinese passports when she sought to be admitted, saying she wanted to use the pool.
She was allowed to enter by Secret Service agents stationed outside the resort after the Mar-a-Lago security manager on duty verified that her last name matched the surname of a member of the club, according to a complaint filed in Federal District Court in South Florida.
When asked if she was the member’s daughter, “she did not give a definitive answer,” the complaint said. It said she was permitted to enter and was escorted to the front desk in a valet-driven golf cart.
Once inside, according to the account filed with the court, the woman said she was there to attend a United Nations Chinese American Association event later in the evening. But no such event existed, according to the complaint, so the club receptionist alerted the Secret Service. Though she had initially said she had come to use the pool, she was not carrying a swimsuit, the complaint said.
Ms. Zhang told the agent who questioned her on site that she was there for a “United Nations friendship event” and had arrived early to see the pool and take photos. She showed the agent an invitation to the supposed event — but it was in Chinese and no one present could read it.
At that point, the Secret Service agent escorted her off the property. The agent continued to question her, and when the agent suggested that she had unlawfully gained access to the club, she became “verbally aggressive” and was detained, the complaint states. From there, she was taken to the Secret Service’s office in West Palm Beach.
During the second interview, Ms. Zhang told the authorities that a Chinese friend named Charles had told her to travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach in order to attend the United Nations friendship event and said that she should try to speak with a member of the president’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations.
The agents were unable to learn more about Charles, as Ms. Zhang told them that she had only spoken to him via the Chinese instant messaging app WeChat.
When the authorities searched her belongings, they found that she was carrying four cellphones, a hard drive, a laptop and a thumb drive that was found to be infected with malware.
She was arrested at that point and charged with lying to a federal agent and gaining access to a restricted area.
At the time of the incident shortly after noon on Saturday, Mr. Trump was off-site, at the nearby Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. He did not return to the resort until 4 p.m.
The Secret Service said in a statement that determining who gets access to Mar-a-Lago is up to the resort’s management; entering the resort does not permit access to areas used by the president, which require additional security screening, it said.
It said agents do conduct a physical screening to make sure no prohibited items enter the property, and did so in the case of Ms. Zhang.
“After undergoing screening at the second Secret Service checkpoint the individual, per club protocol, was immediately met by club reception,” the statement said. “The Mar-a-Lago reception staff then determined that the individual should not have been authorized access by their staff and Secret Service agents took immediate action resulting in the arrest of the individual.”
Ms. Zhang’s lawyer, a federal public defender, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the management at Mar-a-Lago.
The issue of access to Mr. Trump by Chinese nationals became an issue last month, when news media reports surfaced showing that a Chinese-American woman in Florida who once owned a chain of Asian massage parlors that had been investigated for prostitution had attended a number of events there, and had been photographed there with the president and other officials.
The woman, Cindy Yang, collected contributions directed toward Mr. Trump’s campaign from her friends, family and employees, and had a website on which she advertised that she could provide access to the Trump administration.
Ms. Yang had advertised an event for March 30 — the day of Ms. Zhang’s arrest — called the “International Leaders Elite Forum,” described as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and the first event at Mar-a-Lago with “the Chinese as the protagonist,” The Miami Herald reported. The event was later canceled. Ms. Yang worked with an event promoter named Charles Lee, who runs a group called the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which is similar to the name of the event that Ms. Zhang cited, the newspaper reported.
The criminal complaint filed Monday did not draw any connection between Ms. Zhang and Ms. Yang or any of the Chinese-American events scheduled over the weekend.
Elaborate security measures are set up around Mr. Trump’s exclusive, members-only club, which he frequently visits on weekends away from Washington. When the president is in town, roadblocks are set up in the street leading up to the resort and uniformed Secret Service agents typically establish a large security screening area across the street, with a large sign notifying visitors that they are entering a restricted area.
Mar-a-Lago club members are allowed past the initial screening checkpoint and inside the protective perimeter.
Security breaches surrounding American presidents have been a major issue in recent years.
There have been several cases of intruders scaling the White House fence and entering the grounds. In one episode in 2014, a man carrying a knife, Omar J. Gonzalez, managed to overpower a Secret Service agent inside the North Portico entrance and run through the ceremonial East Room before he was tackled.
Weeks after Mr. Trump took office, another man was able to elude multiple layers of security before being stopped near the entrance at the South Portico. In that case, Jonathan Tuan-Anh Tran, who was carrying a backpack, jumped over a fence and came within several steps of the White House while the president was inside the residence.
In perhaps the most notable example, in 2009, a Virginia couple sneaked into a White House state dinner and shook hands with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama as they stood in the receiving line. Known later as the “State Dinner crashers,” the intrusion by Michaele and Tareq Salahi prompted an internal Secret Service investigation and demands for a congressional inquiry.
Security agents on several occasions in the past have had to turn away people who tried to enter the Mar-a-Lago resort, some with the apparent intention of approaching the president.
In several cases, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which reviewed police incident reports, members of the public arrived and told security agents that they had arranged meetings with Mr. Trump.
A 27-year-old Ohio man flew in to Palm Beach International Airport and was flagged to Secret Service agents in April 2018 after he told people he was planning to smoke marijuana with the president; a 32-year-old Georgia man wearing military-style fatigues told local sheriff’s deputies in February of that year that he had an important message “about the war” to deliver to Mr. Trump.
Don Mihalek, executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents the Secret Service, said the episode showed how much the Secret Service relied on the security at Mar-a-Lago.
He said the fact that Secret Service agents apparently relied on the determination by a Mar-a-Lago security agent that Ms. Zhang was related to a member of the club — simply because she shared the member’s last name — was problematic.
“It’s a hard position for Secret Service to be in to potentially deny a million-dollar committee member,” Mr. Mihalek said. “It puts Secret Service in a very difficult position because we don’t know who are members and who aren’t.”
“You’re depending on them to say this is an employee and this isn’t an employee. We work off a list of names,” he said. “Our priority is, are you coming in with explosives or not.”
Ms. Zhang, who court records say was born in 1986, appeared in court in Palm Beach on Monday, and a bond hearing was scheduled for next week, court records show.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.