Zhang Yujing, 33, appeared in a US federal court Monday, where she pleaded not guilty to charges that she lied to a federal agent and entered restricted property without permission. On March 30, Zhang bluffed her way past security at the Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, which is owned by US President Donald Trump, by saying she was a member who wanted to use the pool and feigning unfamiliarity with the English language, which she speaks fluently.
When Secret Service agents eventually caught up to her and apprehended her, they found in her bag numerous electronic devices and passports, as well as a thumb drive containing what appeared to be malware. A subsequent search of her hotel room turned up a good amount of US and Chinese cash, a trove of external computer storage devices and one curious instrument that detects hidden cameras in rooms, Sputnik reported.
Notably, US officials haven't charged Zhang with espionage.
The Global Times attempted to vindicate Zhang, whom it characterized as "a ‘victim' of a cross-border scam" in a Tuesday article. The paper reiterated she had "no idea" what she was getting herself into when she pursued a Chinese Friendship Association event advertised by its chief, Charles Lee, and his business associate, Li "Cindy" Yang.
Yang came into the spotlight last month when her Florida massage parlor business was exposed as soliciting prostitution for wealthy clients both in the US and from China. Yang attracted business by promoting the idea that she could get clients close to Trump, who can often be found at Mar-a-Lago, by posting several photographs of her and the US president on her website.
The Global Times didn't comment on Yang, but did note that Lee is a "criminal who uses shell companies in the US to scam in China."
Zhang reportedly paid Lee 135,000 yuan ($20,120) for the trip and the access to Mar-a-Lago, but "After the event was cancelled, [Lee] did not refund [the money] to Zhang, and was nowhere to be found," the Global Times noted.
"Zhang, who came from thousands of miles away, is now doomed in such a frightening situation in the US: not only has she lost her money, she has become a victim from the crazy ‘witch-hunt' from US government and media targeting China," the paper noted.
Zhang could face up to five years in a US prison, another year for entering restricted grounds and as much as $350,000 in fines, Sputnik reported.