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New incident at Mar-a-Lago under ‘criminal investigation’ by Secret Service

A February 2018 photograph shows Mar-a-Lago's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. (Bruce R. Bennett/Palm Beach Post/TNS)

Palm Beach police say they are conducting an “open and active criminal investigation” at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s South Florida estate, following an unspecified incident Monday night.

The Secret Service is leading the investigation and no arrest has yet been made, according to the Palm Beach Police Department.

Michael Ogrodnick, a police spokesman, declined further comment Tuesday, citing the investigation. But the department did provide a nearly completely redacted incident report showing officers were called around 7 p.m. to “assist” another law enforcement agency. The Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While law enforcement officials would not discuss the nature of the investigation, Mar-a-Lago security has been breached repeatedly since Trump became president. The private Palm Beach club and mansion has witnessed several high-profile trespassing incidents.

Mar-a-Lago has been on heightened alert since Trump ordered a military strike that killed an influential Iranian general last week. Trump gave the order from the club. On Sunday, an adviser to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted a Forbes list of Trump’s properties, including Mar-a-Lago, then followed up by saying that “We have ZERO problems with the American people … Our sole problem is Trump. In the event of war, it is he who will bear full responsibility.”

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Instagram users have been tagging Mar-a-Lago on a map of South Florida with the words “Dear Iran, He’s on the golf course.” The post has been tagged to the club at least 12 times since the attack. (Mar-a-Lago does not have a golf course, although Trump does frequently play at his nearby Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.)

Trump left Mar-a-Lago Sunday and returned to Washington D.C., after spending his winter holiday in South Florida. The Trump Organization has long run the mansion as a private club for members. The president also declared it his legal residence late last year. Secret Service is in charge of security when the president is staying at the club. Members of his immediate family also have Secret Service details that accompany them there. Otherwise security is provided by private contractors.

In March, a Chinese woman was arrested after trespassing at Mar-a-Lago. She was subsequently investigated by federal authorities as a potential foreign agent. The woman, Yujing Zhang, was found guilty of entering a restricted federal area and making false statements but was not charged with any espionage-related activities.

A second Chinese woman, Lu Jing, was arrested in December after allegedly sneaking onto the property and taking pictures. The Secret Service did not immediately respond to questions about whether it had taken over that investigation as well.

The Daily Mail reported that in response to the breaches the Secret Service has added two new security checkpoints to screen members and guests entering the club during presidential visits.

A receptionist who answered the phone at Mar-a-Lago declined to comment Tuesday. The White House and Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mar-a-Lago member Fred Rustmann said Tuesday he had not heard of anything unusual happening at the club. Rustmann said members are not typically notified when club security is compromised.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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© 2020 Miami Herald