ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

clear-night
49°
Sunny
H 79° L 56°
  • clear-night
    49°
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 79° L 56°
  • clear-day
    72°
    Afternoon
    Sunny. H 79° L 56°
  • clear-day
    75°
    Evening
    Sunny. H 79° L 56°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

National Govt & Politics
Chinese woman who entered Mar-a-Lago denied bail
Close

Chinese woman who entered Mar-a-Lago denied bail

Chinese woman who entered Mar-a-Lago denied bail
Photo Credit: Daniel Pontet via AP
In this court sketch, Yujing Zhang, left, a Chinese woman charged with lying to illegally enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, listens to a hearing Monday, April 15, 2019, before Magistrate Judge William Matthewman in West Palm Beach, Fla. Zhang was denied bail and considered an "extreme flight risk" at the court hearing. (Daniel Pontet via AP)

Chinese woman who entered Mar-a-Lago denied bail

A federal judge denied bail Monday for a Chinese woman charged with lying to illegally enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, saying her actions and statements suggest "she was up to something nefarious" and there is an "extreme risk of flight" if she were released.

Federal Magistrate Judge William Matthewman issued the ruling for 33-year-old Yujing Zhang, who pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of lying to federal agents and illegal entering of a restricted area. Zhang faces up to five years if convicted. Prosecutors did back away from their previous contention that Zhang was carrying a computer thumb drive containing malware, saying further tests have put that in doubt.

Matthewman said he was particularly concerned that when Secret Service agents questioned Zhang on March 30 at Mar-a-Lago shortly after she gained admission, the defendant said she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive because she feared they would be stolen if she left them in her hotel room. But during a search of her room later, agents found more electronics gear — including a device to detect hidden cameras — $8,000 in cash and numerous credit and debit cards, all of it unsecured.

"It does seem to the court that her alleged innocent explanation is refuted by what she left behind," Matthewman said. "It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious ... when she gained access to Mar-a-Lago."

Because of that, Matthewman said he feared that if he allowed Zhang to be released, she would flee back to China. The U.S. and China do not have an extradition treaty. Zhang is not charged with espionage, but prosecutor Rolando Garcia said the investigation remains active. Even if Matthewman had decided to grant bail, immigration officials would most likely have detained Zhang because her U.S. visa has been revoked. Zhang showed no reaction throughout the hearing except for once saying she didn't understand when Garcia said she was at times "within an arm's length" of Mar-a-Lago computers.

One of Zhang's public defenders, Kristy Militello, told Matthewman she believes that Zhang, who works as a business consultant, was confused by the agents' questions and they misunderstood her when they say she said she was a member. Zhang speaks English, but her level of expertise is disputed by the prosecution and defense. During court hearings, she listened to a Mandarin translator but also spoke directly to her attorneys occasionally.

Militello said Zhang had come to Mar-a-Lago believing there would be a dinner that evening for a United Nations group, part of a $20,000 travel package she had purchased from a man named "Charles" she only knew through social media. Militello pointed to a receipt Zhang received from Charles Lee, a Chinese national who promotes such events at Mar-a-Lago, and a flyer she had promoting it. She requested Zhang be released on $250,000 bail secured by her father and said she would wear a monitoring device to ensure she didn't leave the area.

"It is a sad fact of this case that if a Mandarin interpreter was provided at that first contact with the Secret Service, we very well may not be here," Militello told Matthewman. She said Zhang cooperated with agents, followed their directions, allowed her belongings to be searched and sat through nine hours of questioning.

Lee ran the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association and was photographed at least twice with Cindy Yang, a Republican donor and former Florida massage parlor owner. Yang recently made news after it was learned she was promising Chinese business leaders that her consulting firm could get them access to Mar-a-Lago, where they could mingle with the president.

Yang previously owned a spa where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution. Kraft has pleaded not guilty, but also apologized for his behavior.

Garcia told Matthewman that a search of Zhang's phones showed Lee told her on March 26, two days before she flew from Shanghai to the United States, that the Mar-a-Lago event was canceled and she acknowledged receipt, asking him why. Garcia did not say if Lee responded.

An agent told Matthewman last week that when an analyst uploaded the possible malware found on Zhang's thumb drive, it immediately began installing and corrupting his computer's files. Garcia said Monday that further analysis has not been able to replicate that action, so there are now doubts about whether it contained malware. He said further tests are being conducted.

No trial date for Zhang has been set. There is no indication Zhang was ever near the president, who was at his nearby golf club when she arrived.

__

This story has been restored a dropped letter in word. The charge is "lying to federal agents."

Read More

The Latest News Headlines

  • Pope Francis is delivering his annual Easter message Sunday after leading Mass at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. >> Watch the address here Every year after the Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. >> PHOTOS: Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass at the Vatican This year’s speech comes hours after blasts rocked multiple churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. >> Read more trending news  Please return for updates.
  • Explosions hit at least three churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more, news outlets are reporting. >> PHOTOS: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens Here are the latest updates: Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report: Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. >> Read more trending news The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  – The Associated Press contributed to this report
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says a 19-year-old man has been arrested for a deadly double shooting back in February.  JSO asked for your help finding the suspect, Trevon Wiley, just days after the February 16th shooting on Matthew Street; now he's been taken into custody.  According to police, Wiley was sitting in a barber chair next to one of the victims getting their haircut. Police say he then stood up, without saying anything, displayed a gun and then shot the victim multiple times, killing him. Police identified the victim as Ziykye Barnhill. JSO says a second person was shot during this incident, but survived.  Police say multiple witnesses came forward to help with the shooting investigation.  Wiley is charged with murder and attempted murder.
  • The family of a 5-year-old boy thrown from a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America last week says he is making “small steps” as he recovers from his devastating injuries. Landen Hoffman was shopping with his mother and friends around 10:15 a.m. April 12 when Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda, 24, of Minneapolis, is accused of picking the boy up and hurling him over a railing to the first floor nearly 40 feet below. Aranda tried to run, but police, with help from witnesses, found him on a light rail train at the mall and took him into custody.  >> Read more trending news “The family doesn’t know him and are completely clueless as to why this monster would target their family with this heinous act of violence,” a GoFundMe page set up to help with Landen’s medical bills states. As of Friday morning, the page had raised more than $870,000 of its $1 million goal.  Landen, who suffered broken arms and legs and significant head trauma, was initially in critical condition, according to the criminal complaint against Aranda. His condition has since stabilized, but he has a long road to recovery, the GoFundMe page reads.  “(His) condition is again similar to previous days. Another peaceful night of sleep -- small steps towards the healing process. Each new day is a good day,” the page read Thursday.  “Landen's recovery is expected to be ongoing for a long time. While it’s hard to estimate costs, this will change everything for their family and require much of their time and focus.” Aranda is charged with attempted premeditated first-degree murder, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Aranda is being held in the Hennepin County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.  >> Related story: Man who threw 5-year-old from third floor of Mall of America intended to kill someone, police say “This crime has shocked the community,” Freeman said in a news release. “That a child, with his mother at a safe public area like a mall, could be violently attacked for no reason is chilling for everyone. Our victim advocates are working with the family during this very difficult time for them. We charged Mr. Aranda with the most severe crime that the evidence allowed.” Bloomington police Chief Jeff Potts said during a news conference Saturday that Aranda was cooperative with detectives. The criminal complaint indicates that Aranda confessed to committing the brazen assault.  Read the criminal complaint against Emmanuel Aranda below. “This is a horrific situation,” Potts said. “The family and this child are in our thoughts and prayers. I know the family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers they can get on this case.” The Hoffman family issued a statement through Freeman’s office showing appreciation for the outpouring of support from the community but requesting privacy as Landen recovers from his life-threatening injuries.  Mall of America officials also praised the outpouring of support. “We are grateful for the efforts of all the first responders involved -- including guests and tenants -- for their immediate actions and the outpouring of concern shown by so many for this young child and his family,” a statement read. “For those who have left gifts, flowers and messages of love at the mall, we thank you. Please know we will keep these items safe and handle them according to the family’s wishes.” The criminal complaint says Aranda told police he had gone to the mall on April 11 intending to kill an adult, but that it did not “work out.” He returned to the mall the next day.  “He said he planned to kill an adult because they usually stand near the balcony, but he chose the victim instead,” the document reads.  Aranda told investigators he chose to kill out of frustration over years of rejection from the opposite sex.  “Defendant indicated he had been coming to the mall for several years and had made efforts to talk to women in the mall, but had been rejected,” the complaint says. “The rejection caused him to lash out and be aggressive.”  Aranda admitted he knew what he did was wrong. “Defendant acknowledged repeatedly in his interview that he had planned and intended to kill someone at the mall that day, and that he was aware that what he was doing was wrong,” the document says.  According to the criminal complaint, surveillance camera footage shows Aranda walking on the third floor of the mall and looking over the balcony several times before approaching Landen and his mother.  Landen’s mother told detectives she saw Aranda approach and stand very close to her and her son, the newspaper reported. She asked him if he needed them to move. “Without warning, defendant picked up the victim and threw him off the third floor balcony in front of (Landen’s mother) and several other witnesses, including children,” the complaint states.  Witnesses told the Minneapolis Star Tribune they heard screaming after the boy went over the railing. “Oh my God! Pray for my son!” Landen’s mother begged, witnesses told the newspaper.  Potts said Saturday that Aranda previously was arrested at the Mall of America. Officers were called there in July 2015 after Aranda was seen throwing an object from the third floor.  “When the officers tried to speak with him, he became … he was not cooperative,” Potts said.  Aranda was charged in that incident with obstruction, disorderly conduct and damage to property, the chief said.  Watch the update from Bloomington police Chief Jeff Potts below.  He was also accused of trespassing at the mall previously after he threw a glass of water in a woman’s face and destroyed property, the criminal complaint says. It was not clear if that was the same incident Potts spoke about during his news conference.  Aranda had been banned from the mall, but apparently ignored the ban.  Aranda next came in contact with Bloomington police officers at a local restaurant, where he refused to pay his bill, Potts said. In a third 2015 incident, Aranda was accused of throwing a glass at a worker at a different restaurant.  He was charged with fifth-degree assault, trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process in the third case. That was the last contact Bloomington officers had with Aranda prior to the alleged assault at the mall last week.  The Star Tribune reported that Aranda was also previously arrested for smashing computers at a public library in Minneapolis. At that time, he told arresting officers he has “anger issues,” the newspaper said.  Court records indicate Aranda has a string of arrests and convictions in Minnesota, as well as charges of assault and theft in Illinois, the Star Tribune reported. The criminal complaint indicates he had an outstanding warrant for assault in Illinois.  Judges have repeatedly ordered him to undergo mental health treatment, as well as to abstain from alcohol and drugs, the newspaper reported.  Prosecutors are taking Aranda’s latest Mall of America attack very seriously.  “The state intends to pursue an aggravated sentence based on particular cruelty to the victim, particular vulnerability of the victim and the commission of the act in the presence of other children and the victim’s mother,” the criminal complaint says.  The Mall of America website states that the facility “holds itself to the highest standards” when it comes to its security. It has 175 security officers on the payroll.  “We pride ourselves on our high caliber officers, training and forward-thinking attitude,” the webpage reads. “We take a holistic approach with our industry leading programs and practices which include bike patrol, K-9 units, special operations plain clothes officers, a state-of-the art dispatch center, parental escort policy, crisis planning and lockdown drills. “We are a unique property and we protect it as such.”
  • In a series of interviews Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stood by her 2017 comments around the dismissal of FBI director James Comey despite telling special counsel Robert Mueller that her statements were made “’in the heat of the moment’” and “not founded on anything.” >> Read more trending news During a news conference after Comey’s abrupt firing in May 2017, Huckabee Sanders told reporters the White House had “heard from countless members of the FBI” who had lost confidence in Comey. However, Mueller’s team found, “The evidence does not support those claims,” according to the special counsel’s report. >> Mueller report: Key findings from the investigation “Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue,’” investigators said in the Mueller report, which was redacted and released Thursday by U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Huckabee Sanders disputed the special counsel’s interpretation of her comments in an interview Friday with “CBS This Morning,” telling morning show anchors that she only meant to say the word “countless” was a slip of the tongue. >> Mueller investigation: Read the report “The big takeaway here is that the sentiment is 100 percent accurate,” Huckabee Sanders said. “The FBI is a better place without James Comey.” In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Huckabee Sanders insisted “there were a number of FBI, both former (and) current), that agreed with the president’s decision.” >> Mueller investigation: House committee subpoenas full report “I said that the word I used, countless … If you look (at) what’s in quotations from me, it’s that and it was ‘in the heat of the moment,’ meaning that it wasn’t a scripted talking point,” she said. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party.” Despite her insistence that her comments about FBI support for Comey’s dismissal were “in the heat of the moment,” Politico noted she told reporters similar things on at least one other occasion, one day after making her initial comment about “countless members of the FBI.” “I can speak to my own personal experience,” she said in 2017, according to Politico. “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.”

The Latest News Videos