The U.S. Secret Service issued a statement late Tuesday night explaining that management at the private club — not Secret Service agents — decides who is welcome at the club.
In an apparent move to address news reports about the arrest of a Chinese national accused of lying her way through security and into Mar-a-Lago during President Donald Trump’s visit last weekend, the U.S. Secret Service issued a statement explaining that management at the private club — not Secret Service agents — decides who is welcome at the club.
“The Mar-a-Lago club management determines which members and guests are granted access to the property,” according to the statement emailed to news agencies at 9:23 p.m. “While the Secret Service does not determine who is permitted to enter the club, our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property.”
The incident happened several weeks after security at the club came under scrutiny when photos surfaced of Cindy Yang attending events at Mar-a-Lago. The Chinese-American, a former owner of the Jupiter spa where Kraft allegedly solicited prostitution, peddled access to the president and other Republican figures on a Chinese-language website.
Democrats have called for an investigation into the Wellington, Fla., woman, who held positions in groups some experts say were fronts for the Chinese government.
Although eyebrows were raised about Yang’s visit to the club, a Palm Beach Post review of social media found hundreds of photos posted by various people to mark their visits to Mar-a-Lago. Members of royal families, Russian celebrities, hedge-fund managers, Fox News personalities and two Brits dubbed the “Bad Boys of Brexit” were among those who posted selfies of their visits.
Yujing Zhang, a 32-year-old Chinese national, initially told agents that she wanted to use the pool at the club, agents wrote. She presented the agents with two passports from the People’s Republic of China to confirm her identity, they said.
A manager at the club thought Zhang was related to a club member who shared the same last name and cleared her to come in. But when Zhang got to the reception desk, she changed her story, agents said.
Instead of visiting the pool, Zhang said she had come to the club to attend a United Nations Chinese American Association event. Knowing there was no such event planned, the receptionist summoned federal agents.
Zhang insisted she had come to the club to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event” between China and the United States, agents said. She explained she arrived early to familiarize herself with the grounds and to snap some pictures, agents said.
Recognizing that her story had changed several times, agents took Zhang into custody after they said she became “verbally aggressive.”
During an interview at the Secret Service office in West Palm Beach, Zhang said she had traveled from Shanghai, China to Palm Beach at the request of a Chinese man she identified only as “Charles,” agents said. Charles, who she said she only knew through text messages, told her to attend the friendship event at Mar-a-Lago.
While agents initially thought a language barrier might have led to confusion about why Zhang visited the club, they later said she had a firm grasp of English. She also did not have a bathing suit with her.
The Secret Service statement did not name Zhang but said agents performed a physical screening on an individual on March 30 “once Mar-a-Lago staff determined an individual was to be granted access to the property.”
The Secret Service performs its first of two screenings in a parking lot across the street from the club. Drivers and passengers must provide valid driver's licenses or other approved credentials.
Individuals who are on the list or approved by management via a phone call are then directed to a tent, where K9s sniff around the vehicle, including under the hood and inside the trunk. An agent with a mirror attached to a pole also examines the undercarriage.
Individuals are either escorted by agents or make a short drive across the roadway, passing through a phalanx of agents and deputies armed with assault rifles. Inside the walls of the club, individuals go directly to the main entrance, where they pass through metal detectors.
From there, they enter the lavish foyer of the club, where they are greeted by the club’s receptionist who again verifies their reason for being at the club. It was there that Zhang’s story fell apart.
“After undergoing screening at the second Secret Service checkpoint the individual, per club protocol, was immediately met by club reception. The Mar-a-Lago reception staff then determined that the individual should not have been authorized access by their staff and Secret Service agents took immediate action resulting in the arrest of the individual,” according to the statement.
Zhang was charged with making false statements to a federal officer and entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds. During a 75-minute hearing on Monday, a federal magistrate appointed a public defender and advised her of the maximum penalties.
Zhang will remain in custody until a detention hearing on April 8, where the magistrate will decide whether she can be released on bail.