The University of Wisconsin student fooled Secret Service and got past security at an underground tunnel during the Thanksgiving break. It took 20 minutes before he was arrested.
WEST PALM BEACH - Four months before a Chinese woman was accused of lying to get into Mar-a-Lago, an 18-year-old college freshman in November fooled Secret Service agents into thinking he was a club member and wandered the grounds for 20 minutes before he was arrested.
An apologetic Mark Lindblom on Tuesday told a federal magistrate that he had no evil intentions when he decided to try and enter the club on the day after Thanksgiving while President Donald Trump and his family were visiting. The Washington, D.C. teenager said he just wanted to see if he could do it.
And, according to accounts from his attorney and a federal prosecutor, it was pretty easy.
Visiting his grandparents, who are members of the nearby Palm Beach Bath & Tennis Club, Lindblom simply walked down the beach the two clubs share.
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Once at a tunnel under State Road A1A that gives Mar-a-Lago members exclusive access to the beach, Lindblom stood in line with club members who were waiting to pass through a metal detector manned by Secret Service agents, said his attorney Marcos Beaton.
“Mr. Lindblom was wanded by Secret Service agents and he walked on through,” Beaton said.
The ease with which Lindblom gained access to the club again raises questions about the Secret Service agency’s ability to protect Trump while he is visiting the members-only club he has dubbed the Winter White House.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John McMillan and Secret Service agent Leo Fridella declined comment on Lindblom's ability to gain access to Mar-a-Lago, which was under tight security because of Trump’s visit.
“I can say it wouldn’t happen today,” McMillan said. He referred questions to officials at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They weren’t immediately available for comment.
After 33-year-old Yujing Zhang was arrested in March after entering Mar-a-Lago, questions were raised about how the agency can secure the club that remains open to members during Trump’s visits. Congressional Democrats have asked the FBI to investigate security at Mar-a-Lago.
In a press release after Zhang arrest, the agency acknowledged that it doesn’t determine who is allowed to enter the club. But, it added, “our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property.”
In Lindblom’s case, there is no indication he was planning to do any harm, McMillan told U.S. Magistrate William Matthewman.
Saying Lindblom made “an exceptionally foolish decision,” he said agents meticulously combed through Lindblom’s background after arresting him wandering on the grass near the club pool. They only thing Lindblom took was pictures on his cell phone, he said.
“We have no reason to believe he had a political, criminal or terroristic purpose,” McMillan said. “It was a foolish decision he did on a lark.”
Lindblom, who is majoring in business at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, admitted as much. “I wanted to see how far I could get,” he told Matthewman.
Wearing a dark blue suit with his right arm in a sling, the wiry teen who still struggles with acne said he didn’t realize the effect his actions would have on federal agents. Until he watched an online video of the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, he said he didn’t fully understand the dangers Secret Service agents face.
Seeing an agent and others, including White House press secretary James Brady, take bullets for the president, was both sobering and eye-opening, Lindblom said.
“These men and women are dedicated to serve us and protect the president,” he said. “I’m so sorry for wasting their time.”
He pleaded guilty to a charge of entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds - one of two charges Zhang faces. While Matthewman could have sent Lindblom to jail for six months, he opted instead to place him on probation for a year.
Both McMillan and Fridella said they supported the lenient sentence.
Lindblom’s treatment stands in stark contrast with how Zhang has been handled.
Noting that she was found with numerous electronic devices, including laptops, cell phones and a device that can detect hidden cameras, Matthewman in April said it appeared she was “up to something nefarious." Agents said she first claimed she was a club member who wanted to use the pool. Once inside the club, she claimed she was there to attend a non-existent event.
Also noting that Zhang has no ties to the United States, Matthewman ordered that she be held without bond. At a court hearing last week, she told a federal judge she wants to represent herself. U.S. District Judge Roy Altman ordered that she undergo a mental health examination. Zhang is to be back in court on June 11.
Unlike Zhang, Lindblom cooperated fully with Secret Service agents after he was arrested, McMillan said.
Beaton described his young client as a smart young man with devoted parents. He appears to be the son of Mark Lindblom, a graphic designer and illustrator who also creates comics, featuring graffiti artists, skateboarders and punk musicians. His grandparents are Frank and Mollie Slattery, who live in Palm Beach, are active in charity events, but are not members of Mar-a-Lago.
Recently, however, Mollie Slattery was one of the chairwomen of the fourth biennial Palm Beach Navy SEAL Evening of Tribute, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. It was held at Mar-a-Lago on April 1. Trump wasn't there.
Matthewman said he was convinced Lindblom meant no harm when he emerged from the beach tunnel and explored the grounds of the club . “It seems to me pretty clear that Mr. Lindblom committed this offense as a youthful indiscretion more out of misplaced curiosity,” Matthewman said.
But, he reminded Lindblom that what he did was serious. His own attorney said Lindblom could have been shot by an agent who had a split-second to decide if Lindblom posed a threat.
Security at Mar-a-Lago is tight for a reason, Matthewman said. “The result of one person slipping by with an evil motive can be just disastrous,” he said.
Still, he said, he doesn’t expect to see Lindblom back in court. “I’m sure you’ll become a productive member of society despite this youthful indiscretion,” he said before sending Lindblom on his way.