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Mar-a-Lago intruder remains behind bars despite serving entire sentence

WPTV speaks exclusively with Yujing Zhang by phone
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Posted at 10:59 AM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 21:35:48-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The woman known as the Mar-a-Lago trespasser, Yujing Zhang, is still in Florida and still behind bars, despite already serving her eight-month sentence.

Zhang completed her sentence in November 2019.

A recent court filing from the U.S. Attorney's Office said Zhang will be removed to China within a matter of weeks.

WPTV contacted Zhang, mailing her a letter at the Glades County Detention Facility, where she is in custody on an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer. Zhang responded, calling Contact 5 investigative producer Erik Altmann more than dozen times over several days.

"I really, really need help," Zhang said in the series of phone calls.

Zhang would not grant permission to record the calls, so Contact 5 took notes instead.

Throughout the series of phone calls, Zhang pleaded for help, claiming no attorney will assist her.

"She doesn't know where to turn to, she doesn't understand her situation and she wants to go home," Altmann told WPTV reporter Matt Sczesny.

"I've been here for a long time, and no attorney would like to come and visit me," Zhang told Contact 5.

INTERVIEW WITH CONTACT 5 PRODUCER:

Mar-a-Lago intruder remains behind bars, despite serving sentence

Zhang was convicted of making false statements toward federal law enforcement agents and unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds in November of 2019, and sentenced to eight months with time served.

She told Contact 5 she's wanted to go home since her sentence was completed.

"She seems helpless. She doesn't know where to turn to, she doesn't understand her situation, and she wants to go home," Altmann said. "She sounded a little desperate at times."

'IT'S UNUSUAL'

Late last year, Zhang filed a handwritten writ of habeas corpus in federal court, asking for a judge to appoint her an attorney and questioning why she was still in custody.

"I need an attorney since I'm in jail, and attorney [sic] may help me get out of the jail," Zhang wrote in the filing.

READ COURT FILING:

Richard Hujber, an immigration attorney based in Boynton Beach, finds it unusual that Zhang is still in custody since she completed her sentence more than a year ago.

"This kind of indefinite detention, it's certainly -- it's unusual," Hujber said in an interview.

Hujber noted that Zhang "wasn't here very long, less than two weeks, I believe, and they got the State Department to cancel her visa, which is quite unusual."

"Obviously, it violates my civil rights, right?" Zhang said during one phone call with WPTV.

In a court filing dated March 22, 2021, the U.S Attorney's Office responded to Zhang's petition, writing that Zhang's removal and deportation to China "will occur within the next eight weeks."

According to Syracuse University's TRAC Immigration Project, Zhang's case is one of 1,299,239 immigration cases pending as of February 2021. TRAC data shows the backlog of immigration cases has doubled in just five years.

The filing notes that ICE suspended deportations to China on Jan. 29, 2020, due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but ICE "resumed removals to China as of May 13. 2020."

"Although flight cancellations and China's COVID restrictions previously caused petitioner's removal date to be rescheduled, ICE nevertheless expects to complete petitioner's removal in the next eight weeks," the filing states.

Hujber questions why gederal officials haven't removed Zhang to China if deportations resumed 10 months ago.

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Richard Hujber, an immigration attorney based in Boynton Beach, speaks with Matt Sczesny about Yujing Zhang's case.

"I think no federal judge is going to be on board with keeping her detained indefinitely," Hujber said. "This is the part of immigration that is fascinating. There is no rule against double jeopardy. You could pay the time for the criminal matter."

ICE did not respond to WPTV's inquiry about her case.

CRACKING THE CASE

Zhang was charged with making false statements toward federal law enforcement agents and unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds after being arrested at Mar-a-Lago on March 30, 2019.

Then-President Donald Trump flew down from Washington and stayed at his club and Palm Beach residence that weekend but was not at Mar-a-Lago when Zhang was apprehended.

WPTV NewsChannel 5 was the first to report on Zhang's charges.

Authorities said Zhang was carrying two passports, four cellphones, a laptop, a hard drive and a thumb drive at the time of her arrest.

While suspicions of spying were raised, the U.S. Attorney's Office never filed any additional charges. She only faced the two counts: one for trespassing and the other for lying to the Secret Service.

When Contact 5 asked Zhang what kind of job she had before traveling to the U.S. two years ago, she responded, "I'm a little bit, umm, I'm afraid I cannot say a lot about that." When asked why she could not discuss her work, she did not answer.

RELATED: Experts worry about rash of Chinese nationals arrested in South Florida

Zhang opted to fire her attorney and defended herself against the charges, something even Judge Roy Altman urged her to reconsider throughout her trial.

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Yujing Zhang

"I'm troubled by the fact she chose to fire her attorney," Hujber said of the decision.

A jury found Zhang guilty on both counts after a two-day trial in September 2019. In November 2019, a judge sentenced Zhang to eight months with time served.

SEE ALSO: Suspected Mar-a-Lago intruder: Hundreds of jailhouse phone calls, few visitors while awaiting trial | Confusion and a 'concocted' story: Trial for accused Mar-a-Lago intruder off to a bizarre start

Bureau of Prison records shows she was released from custody on Nov. 15, 2019. She's been in ICE custody on a detainer ever since.

'I MISS MY FAMILY'

Zhang said she hasn't spoken to her family since 2019.

"I cannot connect with my family," Zhang told Contact 5.

Her main message throughout our phone calls is that she cannot connect with her family, and she needs help.

"The biggest message she kept conveying to me was that she misses her family," Altmann said. "She can't communicate with her family, she hasn't spoken to her family in over two years and she wants to go home."

Asked about her family, Zhang said she wants to talk her parents, noting that "dad is most closest to me."

She also said she has not spoken to any of her friends because she "cannot remember any phone numbers."

Zhang's wish to return to China and see her family may soon be granted, as the U.S. Attorney's Office noted she would be deported in a matter of weeks.

"I think this will all come to an end at some point," Hujber told Contact 5.

READ U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE RESPONSE:


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