MIAMI (AP) — A photo published on March 8 in the Miami Herald shows the founder and one-time owner of a spa implicated in a human-trafficking ring attended President Donald Trump’s Super Bowl watch party at his West Palm Beach country club in February.
While the New England Patriots played the Los Angeles Rams In Atlanta, Li Yang snapped a blurry selfie with a smiling Trump, who turned in his chair to look over his right shoulder for the photo. He was seated at a round table decorated with paper-cutout footballs.
Nineteen days later, Trump’s longtime friend and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, 77, was charged with soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in nearby Jupiter, which Yang had founded more than a decade earlier. Authorities said Kraft visited the spa on Jan. 19 and again on the morning of Jan. 20 and was caught on camera paying for oral sex. He then flew to Kansas City, where his team was playing that night in the AFC Championship game.
Kraft has denied the charges and an arraignment has been set for March 28 in West Palm Beach.
Yang, who goes by Cindy, wasn’t charged in the multiagency anti-human trafficking operation that resulted in 25 arrests and shut down 10 Asian day spas in South Florida. None of the spas are registered to Yang or her family.
She sold the Jupiter spa to Hua Zhang around 2013. Zhang was charged with racketeering and running a house of prostitution and has pleaded not guilty.
Yang’s family still owns several South Florida spas. The family’s Tokyo Day Spa branches have attracted the attention of at least two police agencies, the Herald reported.
Yang told the Herald in a phone interview that she and her family haven’t broken the law. She said she is out of the business, would soon be relocating to Washington, and didn’t want any negative media attention.
The newspaper reported that Yang had not voted in 10 years before 2016 but she has become a fixture at Republican political events on the East Coast. Her Facebook page contains photos of her with Trump, his sons Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin and other Republican operators she met at charity events and fundraisers.
Since 2017, records show Yang and her close family members have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s re-election campaign.
Yang started the Tokyo Day Spas chain in 2007. The first to open is still in business and run by her husband, Zubin Gong, in Palm Beach Gardens. The next was Tokyo Day Spa in Jupiter, which later became Orchids of Asia, the Herald reported.
Around three years ago, Yang announced she was pursuing a “new life’’ in a series of Facebook posts. This included an investment consulting business, a travel agency and a charity.
Yang told the Herald she doesn’t know the president personally.
“I just come to some events. There’s nothing special,’’ she said.
When contacted by The Associated Press, the White House referred requests for comment to Trump’s political campaign. The campaign didn’t immediately respond.