Chinese national arrested for illegally entering Mar-a-Lago

Mar-a-Lago sits on the Palm Beach barrier island, a 128-room, 5,8000-square-metre symbol of opulence and power. PHOTO: AP

FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) - A Chinese national trespassed at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club on Wednesday (Dec 18) and was arrested when she refused to leave, police said, the second time this year a woman from that country has been charged with illicitly entering the Florida resort.

Jing Lu, 56, was confronted by the private club's security officers and told to leave, but she returned to take photos, Palm Beach police spokesman Michael Ogrodnick said in an e-mail. Palm Beach officers were called and arrested her. It was determined she had an expired visa, Mr Ogrodnick said.

Lu was charged with loitering and prowling and was being held late on Wednesday at the Palm Beach County jail.

The President and his family were not at the club - he held a rally in Michigan on Wednesday as the US House voted to impeach him. The Trumps are expected to arrive at Mar-a-Lago by the weekend and spend the holidays there.

When asked about the arrest, Mr Geng Shuang, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "I don't know yet the details about this incident."

Lu's arrest is reminiscent of the March arrest of Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old Shanghai businesswoman, who gained access to Mar-a-Lago while carrying a laptop, phones and other electronic gear. That led to initial speculation that she might be a spy, but she was never charged with espionage, and text messages she exchanged with a trip organiser indicated she was a fan of the President and wanted to meet him or his family to discuss possible deals.

Zhang was found guilty in September of trespassing and lying to Secret Service agents and was sentenced last month to time served. She is being held for deportation.

In another Mar-a-Lago trespassing case, a University of Wisconsin student was arrested in November 2018 after he mixed in with guests being admitted to the club. He pleaded guilty in May and received probation.

In both of those cases, Mr Trump and his family were staying at the resort, but none were ever threatened.

With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Florida's Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Mar-a-Lago sits on the Palm Beach barrier island, a 128-room, 5,8000 sq m symbol of opulence and power. The Trump family business doubled the initiation fee to US$200,000 (S$271,000) after the President was elected in 2016. Mr Trump spends many weekends between November and April there, mingling with the club's 500 members, who pay US$14,000 in annual dues to belong.

Mr Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago from the foundation of the late socialite and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985. He and first lady Melania Trump held their 2005 wedding reception inside the ballroom shortly after its completion.

Federal agencies spent about US$3.4 million per Trump visit, much of it on security, according to an analysis of four 2017 trips by the US Government Accountability Office. The Secret Service doesn't decide who is invited or welcome at the resort; that responsibility belongs to the club. Agents do screen guests outside the perimeter before they're screened again inside.

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