Jury deliberations begin Wednesday in the trial of Yujing Zhang, suspected Mar-a-Lago intruder

Posted at 10:07 AM, Sep 10, 2019

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The fate of Yujing Zhang, the accused Mar-a-Lago intruder, is now in the hands of the jury.

Jury deliberations will start Wednesday morning.

Prosecutors delivered closing remarks late Tuesday afternoon after Judge Roy Altman read the jury instructions.

In a stunning twist, Zhang chose to deliver a closing statement as well. She had previously shown hesitation towards the idea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia delivered closing remarks for the prosecution, using another football analogy.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's clear the United States has scored a touchdown during this case. I'm going to give a play by play," he told the jurors.

Garcia hammered away at Zhang's timeline, noting she had a contract to visit Mar-a-Lago, was told that the event was canceled, and still flew to the United States.

"Two days before she flies to the United States she is being told this event has been canceled," he told the jury. Garcia added that she purchased the plane ticket the next day, then "she wants her money back" according to WeChat messages.

"She clearly knew that she did not have permission to be there. Period."

He also repeatedly accused Zhang of lying to gain access to Mar-a-Lago.

Garcia stated that Zhang told Secret Service Agent Sam Ivanovich that she was at the club for "some United Nations friendship event. Well, that was a clear lie."

"She knew there was no event. She knew there was no event days before," said Garcia.

In her closing remarks, Zhang stressed her innocence, noting that "this is my first time here so I will be nervous."

"As you've seen from the very beginning, I made [a] contract to go to Mar-a-Lago to see [the] President. I do think it's a fact that I did nothing wrong," she told the court.

Zhang added that she "did not lie. I followed instruction to when I went into Mar-a-Lago for the visit. So that's what I want to say, thank you."

Garcia delivered a quick rebuttal to Zhang's closing arguments, saying she "had a contract to go there for $20,000. Was the event canceled? Yes. Was she told that? Yes."

"Did she do something wrong? She got onto that property unlawfully and lied," Garcia remarked in his rebuttal.

The jury will return at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to begin deliberations.

Closing arguments began Tuesday afternoon in the trial of Yujing Zhang, a Chinese national accused of lying her way into President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club on Palm Beach earlier this year.

When asked if she prepared a closing remark earlier in the afternoon, Zhang told the court, "I'm not ready."

"Well, you're gonna have to get ready," responded U.S. District Judge Roy Altman.

Zhang, 33, is charged with entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, as well as making false statements to a federal officer. She's pleaded not guilty, and if convicted faces up to six years in prison.

Zhang has opted to defend herself after firing her public defender earlier this year.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday afternoon after the final two witnesses testified. Zhang has indicated she will not testify.

On the stand Tuesday afternoon were both Richard Soto, Computer Forensic Expert with the FBI, and FBI Linguist Catherine Chang.

Zhang again raised the same objections to various exhibits being introduced as evidence as before, calling it sensitive, personal, and irrelevant. Once again, Judge Altman overruled each of her objections.

FBI Computer Forensic Expert Richard Soto explained the process of how he extracted data from Zhang's iPhone 7. He testified that the data extracted included WeChat messages, as well as audio messages and images sent over WeChat.

"WeChat is a Chinese social, messaging, and mobile payment app," said Soto. "Kind of the equivalent to Facebook, but it has much more functionality."

FBI Linguist Catherine Chang then took the stand, testifying about the translations she did of the WeChat messages.

Chang described a contract found on the phone, dated Feb. 14, 2019. It was a $20,000 contract for a trip to Mar-a-Lago on Mar. 30, 2019.

An incoming audio message to Zhang's phone, dated Mar. 18, 2019, said the event at President Trump's estate on "Mar. 30 will be canceled." It advised Zhang not to buy tickets to the event, instead suggesting going to a "huge U.N. event."

Another incoming audio recording, dated Mar. 26, referenced the Mar. 30 event at "Trump's estate" and said "we can forget about it for now." The recording suggested attending two other events, one with Warren Buffett and one with the Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Two outgoing messages in response said "forget it, just get a refund," and "I'm not going."

Then on Mar. 27, an outgoing message from the iPhone said "need the money urgently. Go ahead and credit the money back to my account by this weekend."

Zhang flew into the United States on Mar. 28, and was detained two days later at Mar-a-Lago, according to the Secret Service.

Zhang chose not to cross examine either witness Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier on Tuesday, Secret Service Agent Brennan Fortune was the first to testify, going over surveillance videos that showed Zhang riding in a golf cart from the Bath & Tennis Club to inside Mar-a-Lago grounds.

The main receptionist for Mar-a-Lago, Ariela Grumaz, also testified on Tuesday. Grumaz told the court she didn't recognize Zhang when she walked into the lobby area.

"As soon as she entered the lobby, you could see that she was fascinated, she was looking around," Grumaz stated, explaining that's usually a sign someone hasn't been inside the club.

Grumaz testified that she asked Zhang if she had an appointment, who then tried showing her something on her phone in Chinese writing. Grumaz said Zhang claimed she was there for a "U.N. Chinese" association event.

They were the only two in the lobby area at the time, according to Grumaz.

Grumaz asked a nearby Secret Service agent to keep an eye on Zhang while she went to check with the catering manager to see if Zhang had an appointment or the event she mentioned was on the schedule.

According to her testimony, Grumaz then had to get Zhang out of the bathroom while agents waited outside the door.

"There's a hallway, and I could see her texting walking back and forth on the phone," said Grumaz. "I called [Zhang] and I said, ma'am, can you please step outside? She looked at me."

Grumaz was asked about Zhang's demeanor after exiting the bathroom as Zhang spoke with Secret Service agents.

"That's what shocked me. She had a blank face. She was totally in control," said Grumaz.

Also on Tuesday, Zhang raised objections to her cell phone and travel records being admitted as evidence, saying they were "sensitive" and "unnecessary." Judge Altman overruled the objections and allowed both records into evidence.

During the first break, Judge Altman asked prosecutors about repeated questioning of witnesses on Zhang's "demeanor" while jurors were outside.

Prosecutors explained it contradicts any defense of confusion, or that Zhang was simply a "wandering tourist."

"Regardless of what was going to happen, she was going to get to Mar-a-Lago. Her character, her demeanor shows that," prosecutors told the judge.

Secret Service Agent Ivanovich testified after the first break, describing his interaction with Zhang both at President Trump's club and at the Secret Service's regional office in West Palm Beach.

Ivanovich said that several family members of President Trump's family were at Mar-a-Lago when Zhang was found wandering inside, including First Lady Melania Trump, Barron Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and the children of Donald Trump, Jr.

President Trump was in town that weekend but was not at Mar-a-Lago when Zhang was detained.

Ivanovich testified Zhang stated numerous times that "she was there to attend a United Nations friendship event between the United States and China."

He told the court that Zhang said she found out about the event from "Charles," whom she communicated with through WeChat, a messaging and social media service popular in China.

"[Zhang] stated that she has not met him [Charles] in person, only through the app," testified Ivanovich, later adding that Zhang said, "the purpose of this event was to build [economic] relationships between the United States and China."

Ivanovich also testified that Zhang said she was at the club early, even though the supposed event she planned to attend was not until that night, "to familiarize herself with Mar-a-Lago and take photographs."

Zhang did not cross examine Ivanovich.

WPTV's Matt Sczesny will provide updates from Zhang's trial online and on air.