Yujing Zhang, 33 years old, had a cache of electronics when she was detained, including a device that can detect hidden cameras, four cellphones and nine USB drives, according to prosecutors.
A federal grand jury indicted her on Friday for making false statements, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds, which is punishable by up to a year in prison.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman denied Ms. Zhang bond at a detention hearing Monday, saying that there was a serious risk she would flee ahead of trial or not show up for it, as prosecutors argued. He said he found it suspicious that Ms. Zhang had so much electronic equipment and cash, and found inconsistencies in her statements to authorities troubling.
“It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious,” Judge Matthewman said.
Ms. Zhang also was arraigned at Monday’s hearing, and her attorneys entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.
The case has focused scrutiny on potential security vulnerabilities at Mar-a-Lago and efforts by foreign and domestic parties to bypass regular protocols in seeking access to Mr. Trump and his advisers.
When Ms. Zhang arrived at Mar-a-Lago on March 30, she first told a U.S. Secret Service agent that she was there to visit the pool. She was allowed to enter, likely as a result of confusion over whether she was a relative of a club member with the same last name, according to a criminal complaint.
At a second checkpoint, Ms. Zhang told a receptionist she was there to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event,” which didn’t exist, according to the indictment. “As the defendant then and there well knew, no such event was scheduled at Mar-a-Lago and its grounds,” the indictment said.
Kristy Militello, an assistant federal public defender representing Ms. Zhang, said her client went to Mar-a-Lago to attend what she believed was a networking event. The attorney submitted evidence that Ms. Zhang paid the equivalent of about $20,000 to one of the event’s promoters, Chinese businessman Charles Lee.
Mr. Lee has ties to Cindy Yang, the former owner of a day spa where police say they recently videotaped male customers paying for sexual services; among those charged in late February with soliciting prostitution was New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Ms. Militello argued that Ms. Zhang followed proper procedures when she arrived at Mar-a-Lago, presenting herself at the main entrance and showing two Chinese passports. The attorney argued that Ms. Zhang wasn’t facing charges of espionage and that she had “every incentive to appear for court” to clear her name. She asked the judge to allow Ms. Zhang to be released on a $250,000 bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia argued that Ms. Zhang presented a serious risk of flight and urged the judge to keep her in detention. He said a preliminary analysis of text messages on Ms. Zhang’s cellphones showed that she was notified on March 26, four days before the event she was scheduled to attend, that it had been canceled.
Mr. Garcia also provided an update on an analysis of a thumb drive Ms. Zhang had that prosecutors initially said contained malware. Upon further examination, he said, that finding could be a “false positive,” though additional analysis is needed.
Judge Matthewman said he found numerous aspects of Ms. Zhang’s case concerning, including that she came in close proximity to computers at Mar-a-Lago while carrying several electronic devices. The judge also cited the evidence that Ms. Zhang apparently knew the Mar-a-Lago event was canceled before she traveled to the U.S. from China.
“The weight of the evidence against Ms. Zhang is quite strong,” Judge Matthewman said