Mar-a-Lago guard warned Chinese trespasser she faced ‘a world of trouble’
By MARC FREEMAN | Sun Sentinel | Published: February 12, 2020
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Chinese national charged with trespassing at Mar-a-Lago was merely a tourist taking photos and sightseeing on Palm Beach, her lawyer told a jury Tuesday.
“She’s caught up and fascinated by the beauty of the place,” Assistant Public Defender Schnelle Tonge said of Lu Jing’s unauthorized visit Dec. 18. “Was she trespassing or doing what a tourist does?”
A Palm Beach County jury will decide Wednesday if it was a crime. Judge Mark Eissey ordered deliberations to begin at 8 a.m. Eastern time.
Before the trial, Jing, 56, rejected a plea offer for one year in jail on misdemeanor counts of trespassing after a warning, and resisting an officer without violence. She also was identified sometimes in the courtroom as Jing Lu.
Prosecutors say by either name the woman was a lawbreaker in what has been a continuing run of apparently unrelated security breaches at President Donald Trump’s private club in recent years.
The latest incident involved a Connecticut opera singer who drove past two road checkpoints, and prompted officers to fire shots at her rental car on Jan. 31.
And a previous Mar-a-Lago trespassing case last year led to the arrest and trial of another Chinese woman who was investigated for possible espionage.
Yujing Zhang, 33, was found with a laptop, phones and other electronic equipment. She was not charged with spying, but instead went to trial and was convicted of entering a restricted federal area and lying to Secret Service agents.
In Jing’s case, state prosecutors said she walked through the main entrance to the property about 12:30 p.m. before a security guard stopped her. Trump was not at home.
“While this may be an attractive structure, this is a private club,” Assistant State Attorney Joseph Kadis said. “If you are not working there, you need to be a member or an invited guest.”
“Ms. Jing was certainly not a member, and was nobody’s guest,” the prosecutor continued in his opening statement to the jury. “She came onto the property.”
There’s no dispute that Jing can’t speak, write or understand English. Security officer Murray Fulton testified that he waved Jing off with hand gestures.
“I was telling her to leave the property,” he said.
Jing did go away, but then found a service entrance. She walked about 100 yards onto the grounds and took photos on her smartphone.
Fulton said he again motioned for her to leave and warned she would be “in a world of trouble.”
Later testifying in her own defense, Jing said she remembers telling Fulton the few English words she knows: “No English, sorry.” A Mandarin-to-English interpreter translated her testimony for the jury.
The panel of four women and three men watched Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage of the episode.
“Being told to leave, being told you gotta go, she can’t go through the main entrance, now you want to go through a service entrance? Here’s where reasonableness starts kicking in,” said Kadis, joined by prosecutor Alexandra Dorman.
But defense attorney Tonge said she didn’t understand the warnings, and there were no posted signs in any language that she was not allowed to be there.
“She was just being a tourist,” Tonge argued. “It was an honest mistake.”
A police officer, Sgt. Michael Dawson, said he spotted Jing about two hours later walking in the 200 block of Worth Avenue. He called for backup.
Jing clenched her hands in a fist, crossed her arms across her chest and screamed “No! No! No!” before she was handcuffed, Officer Taylor Molinaro testified.
Back at the police station, a Mandarin interpreter read Jing her rights, and she refused to provide a statement.
Jing told the jury that a $200 tour guide dropped her off in front of Mar-a-Lago. She said the same guide picked her up after the confrontation with the security officer and took her to Worth Avenue a few miles away.
Tonge, with Assistant Public Defender Jessica Vega, said Jing also didn’t understand what was happening when she was approached by the Palm Beach Police officers.
“Confused and afraid,” Tonge said.
Jing said she was scared of the police.
“It was a normal reaction,” she said. “I didn’t know why they wanted to arrest me.”
In their closing arguments, the prosecutors blasted Jing’s claim to be a tourist who didn’t know better.
“This entire tour guide story makes no sense,” Kadis said, later adding, “She’s in a place where she’s unlawfully allowed to be.”
Before the trial, the jurors promised they could fairly consider the case based only on the evidence — putting aside any personal views about Trump.
Jing has been in custody at Palm Beach County Jail since her arrest. Officials say her visa has expired.
The state attorney’s office treated the case as a major priority, with State Attorney Dave Aronberg and Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis attending portions of the trial.
Aronberg briefly assisted prosecutor Dorman during her cross-examination of Jing, prompting the judge to ask if Kadis was her co-counsel.