Last week, Li “Cindy” Yang, the Florida massage parlor entrepreneur and Trump donor who has been part of the recent controversy involving Donald Trump’s private resort, Mar-a-Lago, filed a defamation lawsuit against the parent company of the Miami Herald. The suit focused on a Herald story that had placed Yang in the spotlight by reporting she had posed for a photo with Trump at his West Palm Beach golf club during a Super Bowl party in February and noting that Yang had founded the day spa where Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, had been busted for allegedly soliciting prostitution. (Yang sold that particular spa years earlier.) The suit claims the newspaper published false statements about Yang and her business that suggested illegal conduct had occurred in her spas. But the suit also contained a surprising passage that acknowledged that Yang had also run a business that provided Chinese executives “access to American business and political culture”—and this included entry to events at Mar-a-Lago.
After the Herald story appeared in March, Mother Jones reported that Yang owned a firm that had offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family via visits to Mar-a-Lago. The company, GY US Investments, noted on its website—which has since been taken down—that its business consulting services addressed clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, the firm said its “activities for clients” included offering them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasted it had “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggested it can provide clients with access to a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.”
Weeks after that story was posted, Yang’s attorney, Evan Turk, contacted Mother Jones and threatened a lawsuit, claiming the article defamed Yang. In a letter, Turk wrote that the Mother Jones article inaccurately reported that “Cindy Yang runs an investment business that has offerred [sic] to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. This is nothing but false conjecture based on her company’s website that offerred [sic] business assistance in America to potential Chinese clientele; a travel package.” (No lawsuit has yet been filed.)
Yet in the lawsuit Turk dropped on the Herald, he stated that Yang was in the access business. A paragraph citing her entrepreneurial talents explained how GY US Investments was founded and operated:
YANG came to the United States [from China] in search of a better life. She realized the American dream through her entrepreneurial acumen. She created GY US Investments which provided access to the American business and political culture through her understanding of opportunity. GY US Investments was a travel package for Chinese businessmen and philanthropists to travel to America. She realized the premium attached to a picture and story that her clients would cherish, while at the same time, supporting charitable causes. She had an opportunity to share her understanding of the Palm Beach charity scene and events publicly promoted at Mar-a-Lago (amongst others). YANG’s business model relied upon her reputation and relationships she had painstakingly established during her time spent in the Palm Beach County area.
This complaint together with the GY US Investments website support the conclusion that Yang, who raised money for Trump, used her connections to bring Chinese executives into proximity of the president and Trump family members at his club and perhaps elsewhere.
Yang’s lawsuit maintains that due to Herald article, she
is no longer able to maintain her current employment as a direct result of the defamatory statements, is no longer able to attend Mar-a-Lago [events], lost her role as an executive volunteer with the Republican Executive Committee, is undergoing psychiatric treatment to cope with the unconscionable fake allegations, suffers from significant headaches, cannot sleep and was forced to relocate as a direct result of the shame she has had to unnecessarily endure.
In the filing, Turk, a supporter of Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser who was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and charged with lying to Congress, asserts the Herald story was a hit job that “paints a picture that President Trump is corrupt, and YANG is one of his cronies… The article reads as if it is the playbook for the anti-President Trump manifesto.”
In response, the newspaper’s managing editor, Rick Hirsch, said, “We stand behind our stories, which accurately reflect publicly available documents and investigations of spas run by Cindy Yang and her family.” And a lawyer for the Herald noted that the lawsuit could entail taking depositions from Trump’s family members who appeared in photos Yang posted online.
The lawsuit focuses on the Herald’s reporting that suggested “acts that promote prostitution” (as the filing puts it) occurred at spas associated with Yang. The complaint maintains the Herald article “implies…that YANG promoted prostitution.”
Yet Yang’s legal missive does not take issue with additional reporting from the Herald (which mirrored Mother Jones’) regarding Yang’s other line of work: offering access to Mar-a-Lago. The disclosure of this activity led to reports of others selling Chinese execs entry to Trump’s private club—and a controversy that has prompted counterintelligence concerns about security at Mar-a-Lago. And Turk’s filing does not address a more recent Herald article reporting that the FBI has been investigating Yang for possibly funneling money illegally from China into Trump’s reelection campaign. The US attorney’s office in Miami would not comment on whether there was such an investigation. Karyn Turk, Evan Turk’s wife and a spokeswoman for the law firm, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Mar-a-Lago scandal is certainly bigger than whatever happens with Yang. After a Chinese woman named Yujing Zhang sneaked into Mar-a-Lago last month—perhaps with the participation of Charles Lee, a mysterious Chinese businessman—the Herald reported that federal investigators have been probing possible Chinese intelligence operations targeting Trump and Mar-a-Lago. The story triggered by Yang’s photo with Trump now extends far beyond her day spa business.