South Florida

Cindy Yang files defamation lawsuit. Miami Herald stands by its story

Li Yang, who goes by ‘Cindy,’ takes a selfie with President Donald Trump.
Li Yang, who goes by ‘Cindy,’ takes a selfie with President Donald Trump.

Li “Cindy” Yang, who along with her family operated a string of Asian-themed day spas and advertised her ability to introduce Chinese business executives to President Donald Trump, is suing the McClatchy Company, corporate parent of the Miami Herald. Yang claims defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Miami Herald stands by its story.

Yang’s attorney, Evan Turk, filed suit Monday in Palm Beach Circuit Court over a March 8, 2019, article headlined “Trump Cheered Patriots to Super Bowl Victory with Founder of Spa where Kraft was Busted.”

The headline referred to Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and to a Super Bowl party at the president’s golf club in West Palm Beach that Trump hosted this past February. At the party, Yang took a selfie photograph with the president, which she posted to Facebook and the Herald re-published.

Mar-a-Lago has become a top destination for Trump tourism. Experts say Mar-a-Lago in particular provides unprecedented levels of access by people to the president.

Yang is the founder of Orchids of Asia, a spa in Jupiter that Kraft and others allegedly visited to solicit prostitution, resulting in criminal charges.

The story pointed out, however, that Yang had sold that spa years earlier and had no connection to the multi-agency sting that netted Kraft, dozens of other men and two spa managers.

Yang’s lawsuit alleges the Herald article suggests “an incredibly disparaging false narrative” — that she promoted prostitution and operated day spas that came under police scrutiny.

The story noted that Yang or her family continued to operate a string of other establishments under the name Tokyo Day Spas — and that two of those had been the subject of police reports alleging prostitution.

The article stated that no charges were filed as a result of the police reports concerning the Yang family’s Tokyo Day Spas.

Around the time Trump became president, Yang transitioned from the spa business to offering consulting services connecting wealthy Chinese business people with the president and other high-ranking Republicans. She promoted events at Trump’s private club at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach residence, and advertised her ability to arrange photos with the president and his relatives.

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Li ‘Cindy’ Yang attended Sen. Rick Scott’s Sunshine Ball in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8.

The Herald published social media photos of Yang with Gov. Rick Scott, future Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida politicians.

“The article reads as if it is the playbook for the anti-President Trump manifesto,” the lawsuit states, describing it as “fake news propaganda.”

The lawsuit also says, in the aftermath of the story, Yang “is no longer able to attend Mar-a-Lago, 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.”

Sanford Bohrer, the Herald’s lawyer, said the lawsuit could require the taking of depositions from the president’s family members, who frequent Mar-a-Lago and appear in some of Yang’s photos.

“We stand behind our stories, which accurately reflect publicly available documents and investigations of spas run by Cindy Yang and her family,” said the Miami Herald managing editor, Rick Hirsch.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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