NPR -- March 10, 20195:23 PM ET Heard on All Things Considered


The Miami Herald has detailed how a woman who once owned a chain of day spas in Florida allegedly steered Chinese businessmen to a fundraiser for President Trump. NPR's Michel Martin speaks with Herald reporter Caitlin Ostroff.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

By now, you've probably heard the reports about Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots. He's been charged with soliciting prostitution at a day spa in Florida. And while at first, this story may have played like another embarrassing tale about celebrity mischief, it has now revealed much more. It's led to deeper reporting about how the sex trade actually works and how it's connected to human trafficking.

And now, thanks to reporting by the Miami Herald, yet another story has emerged. This one is about a woman who founded a chain of day spots where prostitution is alleged to have taken place and how she may have steered Chinese business executives to a fundraiser for President Trump. There's a lot to get through here, so we've called up Caitlin Ostroff. She's part of the team of reporters at the Miami Herald who broke this story, and she is with us now.

Caitlin, thanks so much for talking with us.

CAITLIN OSTROFF: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I'm going to start by asking you to tell us about the woman in question and how she got involved in politics. And I do want to make clear she founded the day spa where Robert Kraft was arrested, but she sold it several years ago, and she has not been charged in this case. But tell us more about her.

OFTROFF: Yeah. So that's kind of the big mystery - that when we were researching the spa where Kraft was busted, we wanted to know who owned it, who had founded it. And when we started looking up Cindy Yang - Cindy is the first name that she typically goes by - we were just following through her Facebook page, and all of a sudden, we found all of these pictures that popped up of her posing with President Trump and other high-ranking Republican officials.

She wasn't politically active before a couple years ago, so she hadn't really made political contributions. She hadn't registered to vote until a little bit before the 2016 general election. And so we were trying to figure out, how did she go from a business owner to donating a lot of money to Republican candidates and being in a position with high-ranking officials?

MARTIN: So, according to your reporting, she arranged for a group of Chinese business executives, Chinese nationals, to attend a fundraiser for President Trump. What more do we know about that? And is there anything wrong with them attending the fundraiser?

OFTROFF: It depends. And this is what, again, our reporting is kind of seeking to pose the question of and answer. So it's illegal for foreign nationals to directly contribute to a campaign. And so the question of that fundraiser, which happened in December of 2017 in New York - it was an RNC fundraiser - is how did Chinese residents happen to be at that fundraiser? How did they pay for their tickets to the event? And was there any influence of that exacted on the president or on other Republican officials?

MARTIN: So they could attend - foreign visitors can attend fundraisers as long as they don't pay their own way, and they cannot reimburse a U.S. citizen for paying their way.

OFTROFF: Yes.

MARTIN: So that is the question that you are investigating. Do you know the role that Cindy Yang played in getting those executives to that fundraiser?

OFTROFF: So we don't know exactly how she arranged for them to attend the fundraiser. But we do know that she had started a consulting business called GY US investments. And through that company, there was promises of getting Chinese investors into the president's orbit. So we do know that she has boasted of her political ties in order to get Chinese businessmen into the presidential orbit and give them access. But we don't know exactly how she got them into that fundraiser in New York.

MARTIN: And what does the RNC have to say about that? Have they responded to your queries?

OFTROFF: The RNC hasn't said how they got there or why they were guests yet.

MARTIN: That is Caitlin Ostroff of the Miami Herald. We reached her at a conference in California.

Caitlin, thanks so much for talking with us.

OFTROFF: Thanks for having me.

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