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Suspected Mar-a-Lago intruder to go on trial in September, judge accuses her of playing games

Posted: 10:29 AM, Aug 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-13 19:18:19-04
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The jury trial for a Chinese woman accused of sneaking into President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is set for the first week of September.

33-year-old Yujing Zhang, who's representing herself as her own attorney, appeared in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday afternoon in a dark blue jumpsuit.

Zhang irked U.S. District Judge Roy Altman early on in Tuesday's hearing when the suspect claimed she was feeling ill and "not available." Judge Altman said Zhang initially understood the translator as he addressed her, but then just smiled at him.

"We're not going to allow her to play games with the court," said Judge Altman from the bench.

Zhang then told the court that she felt "a bit dizzy" and it may have been because of her blood pressure. When pressed, Zhang told Judge Altman that she started to feel ill earlier in the day.

Zhang's trial was initially set to begin on Aug. 19. However, prosecutors and her stand-in public defender both said they had not provided her with a schedule of deadlines, so Judge Altman said he would extend her filing deadline to Aug. 30.

Prosecutors also proposed a trial by judge, and to allow Zhang to waive her right to a jury trial. Judge Altman explained at length the difference between the two options. When asked, Zhang responded through her translator that she "understood she had a choice."

Explaining the differences again, Judge Altman said he would give Zhang one week to think about her options, and scheduled a hearing for Aug. 20 to decide on the matter.

Zhang has pleaded not guilty to charges of entering restricted property and lying to a federal agent.

Investigators said Zhang lied her way into Mar-a-Lago on March 30 by falsely telling security she was a member and was going to swim. She also told a front desk clerk she was there for a nonexistent Chinese/American event, the Secret Service said.

Agents said they found Zhang carrying four cell phones, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive initially thought to have had malware installed on it. It was later determined there was no malware on the thumb drive, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors said agents found a device in Zhang's hotel room that could detect hidden cameras. They also found $8,000 in U.S. and Chinese currency, nine USB drives, five USB cards, and several credit cards in her name.

Prosecutors said Zhang has no ties to South Florida, and it's unclear what her motive was.

According to new court filings released Tuesday, prosecutors plan to call multiple witnesses at Zhang's trial including Secret Service agents, an FBI forensic examiner, FBI intelligence analysts, and an FBI language specialist.

Some of the evidence expected to be presented to jurors includes surveillance video from Mar-a-Lago, video of Secret Service agents interviewing Zhang, information obtained from her iPhone 7, as well as plane tickets and hotel receipts.