As Steve Bannon Rose to Power, His Ex-Wife Struggled With Drugs and Violence in Miami

Steve Bannon lashed out at the media this week.
Steve Bannon lashed out at the media this week. Photo by Don Irvine / Flickr
Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's senior counselor and chief strategist, lashed out at reporters this week, claiming "the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut."

The comments came after journalists discovered Bannon was registered to vote in both Florida and New York — an embarrassing revelation that happened just as Trump called for a massive investigation into baseless claims of voter fraud by Clinton supporters.

But it turns out Bannon's ties to Florida are even stranger than his voter registration woes. Court records obtained by New Times reveal that in 2013, one his ex-wives, Diane Clohesy, was caught trying to smuggle marijuana and a cell phone to an accused burglar in the Miami-Dade jail at a time when Bannon was reportedly paying her monthly rent at a Coconut Grove home.

The documents raise new questions about Bannon’s relationship with Clohesy and the multiple felonious men with whom she associated after their 2009 divorce. At the same time Bannon was rising as a central figure in the alt-right, his ex-wife was arrested for domestic violence and accused of using drugs in a low-rent condo building on Miami's Upper Eastside.

Neither Bannon nor Clohesy responded to multiple emails seeking comment for this story. But Clohesy's brother Declan tells New Times that Bannon helped his sister through her battles with substance abuse and mental illness.

"My sister Diane is one of millions of Americans that suffer from drug and alcohol abuse and depression," he said in a statement. "Steve has always been there for my sister, whether it be providing emotional or financial support as she battles this horrible disease. The family can't thank him enough. We appreciate the media respecting my sister’s privacy at this early stage of her recovery."

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1953, Bannon served as an officer in the Navy for several years before attending Harvard Business School at the age of 29. After stints as an investment banker and a Hollywood producer, he became a founding member of Breitbart News in 2007, helping to tailor the site's coverage to the whims of the alt-right, an audience eager for pro-white, anti-immigration content.

Now 63 years old, Bannon has been married and divorced three times, though the timeline of those relationships is fuzzy. In the '80s, he wed Cathleen Suzanne Houff, who gave birth to their daughter in 1988. After the couple divorced, Bannon married Mary Louise Piccard in April 1995, three days before she gave birth to twin girls.

Not long after that, Piccard claimed Bannon violently grabbed at her neck and wrist during an argument about money. Police responded to the couple's California home and later charged Bannon with domestic violence in the January 1996 incident. The case was dropped several months later, and Piccard filed for divorce at the beginning of the new year.

Clohesy is an especially hazy figure in Bannon's story. His third wife began studying marketing at the age of 24 at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, according to her LinkedIn profile. She finished her studies four years later in 1998, the same year Bannon reportedly moved to New York after his media investment firm was acquired by a Wall Street bank. Records indicate Bannon and Clohesy began living together in Laguna Beach, California, sometime around 1999.

In August 2003, Clohesy moved to Florida and registered to vote as a Republican. Though it’s unclear where she was living at that time, she listed addresses at a Sarasota office building and a Lincoln Road condo in Miami Beach as residences on early forms.

In 2006, she and Bannon moved into a $1.3 million apartment in a luxury Manhattan high-rise. The couple sold the home in 2008 and divorced the next year.

That divorce file isn't available, but Miami-Dade court records suggest Clohesy might have been dating another man since 2007. Describing himself as Clohesy’s boyfriend of two years, a Miami man named Pedro Garcia Jr. twice accused her of domestic violence in 2009. Following a physical altercation that March, Clohesy was arrested and ordered by a judge to stay away from Garcia. Court records show prosecutors ultimately dismissed the misdemeanor battery charge.

The two apparently patched things up, and in October 2009, Clohesy moved into Garcia’s condo on the third floor of a building off the 79th Street Causeway, just east of Biscayne Boulevard. But only two weeks later, Garcia filed for a restraining order, saying Clohesy had smashed a bottle on his head in a drunken rage. The case was dismissed ten days later when Garcia failed to show up in court.
click to enlarge Police were often called for domestic disturbances when Clohesy lived in this building off the 79th Street Causeway. - VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Police were often called for domestic disturbances when Clohesy lived in this building off the 79th Street Causeway.
via Google Street View
Soon after the couple broke things off, Clohesy began dating one of Garcia's neighbors. In 2012, she moved into an apartment just one floor up with Jose Cavana, a muscular 33-year-old with a joker tattooed on his stomach. The couple had been dating about nine months when they had an argument that ended in violence in July 2012. On July 24, Clohesy claimed Cavana accused her of cheating and then made various attempts to extort money.

"Pay me now or it’s on," he said in a text message, according to Clohesy’s petition for a restraining order. "If you don’t have my stacks [of] at least fifty thousand dollars, I am going to the internet and ruin your reputation."

Over the next two days, the quarrel turned violent, and Cavana was arrested by Miami-Dade Police July 26 after Clohesy said he strangled her inside the apartment. Cavana was charged with three felonies and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, but the case was dismissed later in 2012. In 2013, he filed a counter-petition against Clohesy, claiming she kept trying to contact him in violation of the restraining order she had sought. His petition also said Clohesy had a problem with crystal meth, Ecstasy, and marijuana.

Despite her tumultuous personal life, Clohesy continued to work with Bannon. The two collaborated on several conservative films, including The Undefeated, a documentary about Sarah Palin released in 2011, and Occupy Unmasked, a 2013 film about Occupy Wall Street that's been described by viewers as “blatant propaganda” and "right-wing, corporate-funded slander."

After their divorce, Bannon also reportedly continued to pay for Clohesy's housing. From 2013 to 2016, he rented two Coconut Grove homes for his ex-wife, according to an August report from the Guardian.

Records show Clohesy lived at an address on Opechee Drive from 2013 to 2015. Citing a source with direct knowledge of the rental agreement, the British newspaper reported that Bannon paid Clohesy’s $5,500 monthly rent through his accountants in Beverly Hills. Bannon did not live at the home but would visit a couple of times a year, according to the source and a neighbor.
click to enlarge Bannon paid for this home in Coconut Grove where Clohesy lived from 2013 to 2015. - VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Bannon paid for this home in Coconut Grove where Clohesy lived from 2013 to 2015.
via Google Street View
It was during this time that Clohesy was caught trying to smuggle contraband to inmate Victor Ramirez at the Miami-Dade jail. Investigators first began sniffing around in September 2012 after finding a cell phone on another inmate, Benson Cadet, a known member of a gang called the Terrorist Boys. Shakedowns at the jail kept turning up phones, and detectives suspected a number of correctional officers were responsible. But the investigation dragged into 2013 with no resolution.

Investigators were stumped until they came across several recorded jailhouse calls from Ramirez to Clohesy in September 2013. In the recordings, Ramirez and Clohesy coordinated for her to meet with Lavar Lewis, a 27-year-old correctional officer known to inmates as the “Love Doctor” due to the service he facilitated between incarcerated men and their girlfriends and wives. During her conversations with Ramirez, Clohesy was given instructions to purchase a "pop tart" — code language for a cell phone — as well as several ounces of weed and some molly, according to an affidavit by Sgt. Rene Vila, an internal affairs investigator.

For weeks, detectives followed Lewis, and they were on his trail as he left his West Perrine home Friday, September 20, 2013. After stops at Burger King and Walgreens, Lewis pulled into a parking space at a Taco Bell on South Dixie Highway and waited. At 10:46 p.m., Clohesy drove up in a blue Mercedes-Benz and slid into the next parking spot over. Lewis hopped into the passenger seat of her car, and the two headed to a nearby Walgreens, where Clohesy took out $700 to pay Lewis.

During their ride, Ramirez called Clohesy from jail. Telling him she was “shopping,” she then handed the phone to Lewis, who asked Ramirez about a promise he'd made to allow Lewis sex with one of his girlfriends. The arrest affidavit outlining what happened that night doesn't say whether the rendezvous ever occurred.

Before Clohesy and Lewis parted ways, detectives say, she gave him a Samsung cell phone and an envelope of marijuana to pass on to Ramirez. She promised to pay the remaining $300 upon delivery. The following day, Lewis was pulled aside at work and suspended with pay.

In a bizarre interview with Sergeant Vila that October, Clohesy refused to give her home address, saying she used a P.O. box because she had a stalker. She didn’t disclose how she met Ramirez but said the two had known each other since September 2012. Clohesy told the sergeant she was trying to help Ramirez, who'd been charged with armed burglary, grand theft, and criminal mischief.

"The reason I wanted him to have this phone is I wanted to talk to him about this case," she said. "I was very foolish. My guard was way down."

After detailing her meeting with Lewis, Clohesy ended the interview by asking Vila about a rumor the inmates had started.

"How did it come about that apparently I was having sexual relations with the —" she began to ask. But the sergeant stopped her short.

"It would probably be best because you might get into some personal matters, and I’d rather you not discuss that on the record, for your best interest," he said before pausing the recording.

It took several more weeks for investigators to make their arrest, but in January 2014, Lewis was booked on felony charges of unlawful compensation and conspiracy to introduce contraband into a county detention facility. A close-out memo from the State Attorney’s Office shows the case was dismissed in May 2015 due to circumstantial evidence and the fact that "the witness/co-conspirator" could no longer be located. Clohesy was never charged in the case.

Over two months, New Times reached out to several of the people named in the court documents, including Bannon, Clohesy, and her two ex-boyfriends, Garcia and Cavana. On Thursday, January 26, Alexandra Preate – who identifies herself as a Bannon spokesperson in her Twitter bio – emailed a New Times reporter but ultimately declined to comment for this piece.

Garcia didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Cavana promptly answered a letter sent to him at the Hardee Correctional Institution in Central Florida. Serving a ten-year stint for selling cocaine, he wrote back on a single sheet of loose-leaf paper, printing in all capital letters.


Cavana provided no evidence for his claims and stopped responding to letters sent by a New Times reporter after he was told he wouldn’t be paid for his time.

Though Bannon is likely to remain in the spotlight for the next four years, Clohesy leads a far quieter life. Her brother says she continues her recovery from drug addiction. A phone number she used for several years has since been disconnected, and her most recent voter registration listed her address as 102 Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tonya Edwards, a spokesperson for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, told New Times the address is meant for use by homeless people, law enforcement officers, victims of domestic violence, and other protected groups whose addresses are exempt from the public record.

Edwards said Clohesy did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. Records indicate she has not cast a ballot since November 2012.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.