Ban­non had no fixed ad­dress dur­ing his rise

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBERT O’HARROW JR. AND SHAWN BOBURG

In the three years be­fore he be­came Don­ald Trump’s chief strate­gist, Stephen K. Ban­non lived as a vir­tual no­mad in a quest to build a pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal in­sur­gency.

No pres­i­den­tial ad­viser in re­cent mem­ory has fol­lowed such a mys­te­ri­ous, peri­patetic path to the White House. It was as though he was a man with no fixed ad­dress.

He owned a house and condo in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he had en­ter­tain­ment and con­sult­ing busi­nesses, a driver’s li­cense and a check­ing ac­count. He claimed Florida as his res­i­dence, reg­is­ter­ing to vote in Mi­ami and telling author­i­ties he lived at the same ad­dress as his third ex-wife.

At the same time, he rou­tinely stayed in Wash­ing­ton and New York as he en­gi­neered the ex­pan­sion of Bre­it­bart News and hosted a live Bre­it­bart ra­dio pro­gram. By 2015, Ban­non stayed so of­ten at Bre­it­bart’s town­house head­quar­ters on Capi­tol Hill that he kept a pic­ture of a daugh­ter on a man­tel­piece, be­neath a

por­trait of Abra­ham Lin­coln.

Ban­non told a friend that year he was liv­ing in mul­ti­ple cities, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton, New York, Lon­don and Mi­ami, ac­cord­ing to an email ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The is­sue of Ban­non’s le­gal res­i­dency has been sim­mer­ing since last sum­mer, shortly after he be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of Trump’s cam­paign. The Guardian re­ported in an Aug. 26 story that he was reg­is­tered to vote at a then-va­cant house and spec­u­lated that Ban­non may have signed an oath that he was a Florida res­i­dent to take ad­van­tage of the state’s lack of state in­come taxes.

In Cal­i­for­nia, where Ban­non had lived and owned prop­erty for more than two decades, in­come tax can ex­ceed 12 per­cent.

Ban­non has not re­sponded to re­peated re­quests by The Wash­ing­ton Post to dis­cuss the mat­ter. Two Post re­porters sought to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify his res­i­dency claims, us­ing a wide ar­ray of pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion.

They ob­tained util­ity bills, court records, real es­tate trans­ac­tions, state driver re­ports and the checks he wrote to pay mu­nic­i­pal taxes in Cal­i­for­nia. They in­ter­viewed neigh­bors, spoke with land­lords and tracked his Bre­it­bart-re­lated ac­tiv­ity.

In the dig­i­tal age, when most Amer­i­cans leave a clear foot­print of their where­abouts, Ban­non left a me­an­der­ing trail filled with am­bi­gu­ity, con­tra­dic­tions and ques­tions. The Post found that Ban­non left a neg­li­gi­ble foot­print in Florida. He did not get a Florida driver’s li­cense or reg­is­ter a car in the state. He never voted in Florida, and neigh­bors near two homes he leased in Mi­ami said they never saw him. His rent and util­ity bills were sent to his busi­ness man­ager in Cal­i­for­nia.

Ban­non’s for­mer wife oc­cu­pied the premises, ac­cord­ing to a land­lord and neigh­bors.

At the same time Ban­non said he was liv­ing with his ex-wife, she was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for in­volve­ment in a plot to smug­gle drugs and a cell­phone into a Mi­ami jail, a law en­force­ment doc­u­ment ob­tained by The Post shows.

The Post learned that state pros­e­cu­tors in Mi­ami have an ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ban­non’s as­ser­tions that he was a Florida res­i­dent and qual­i­fied to vote in the state from 2014 to 2016. In late Au­gust, in­ves­ti­ga­tors sub­poe­naed Ban­non’s lease of a Co­conut Grove home and other doc­u­ments. They also con­tacted the land­lords of that home and an­other that Ban­non leased nearby, and sought in­for­ma­tion from a gar­dener and handy­man who worked at one of the homes, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments and in­ter­views.

Be­cause state laws do not clearly de­fine res­i­dency, mak­ing a false reg­is­tra­tion case can be dif­fi­cult.

Cal­i­for­nia con­nec­tion

A for­mer in­vest­ment banker and Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer, Ban­non lived in Cal­i­for­nia when he took a turn to­ward pol­i­tics nearly a decade ago.

He had a condo in Los An­ge­les and a house just to the south in La­guna Beach, in Or­ange County. In 2010, he told Or­ange County elec­tion of­fi­cials that he wanted to be­come a “per­ma­nent ab­sen­tee voter” and have all bal­lots mailed to his La­guna Beach home.

In 2011, Ban­non pro­duced and di­rected a po­lit­i­cal doc­u­men­tary about Sarah Palin for the Vic­tory Film Project, a com­pany in Sara­sota, Fla. He is listed as a man­ager of the com­pany in Florida cor­po­rate records.

In March 2012, with the death of founder An­drew Bre­it­bart, Ban­non be­came ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the Los An­ge­les-based Bre­it­bart News, which was ex­pand­ing its op­er­a­tions to Wash­ing­ton.

Ban­non was still a res­i­dent of Cal­i­for­nia, records show. In the Novem­ber 2012 elec­tions, he voted in Or­ange County by ab­sen­tee bal­lot. That same month, he re­newed his Cal­i­for­nia driver’s li­cense for five years.

But in his sub­se­quent trav­els across the coun­try, his liv­ing sit­u­a­tion be­came more com­pli­cated. The de­tails gath­ered by The Post cre­ate un­cer­tainty about where ex­actly he was spend­ing the bulk of his time.

On Feb. 9, 2013, Ban­non and Diane Clo­hesy, his for­mer third wife, signed a lease ap­pli­ca­tion for a three-be­d­room house on Opechee Drive in a lush Mi­ami neigh­bor­hood with palm trees and Span­ish-style homes.

Ban­non signed as “ap­pli­cant,” and Clo­hesy signed as “ap­pli­cant’s spouse.”

The two were mar­ried in 2006, when Ban­non was 53 and Clo­hesy was 36. They di­vorced in Cal­i­for­nia in 2009. She had moved to Florida in 2008, “start­ing a new life in Mi­ami,” Ban­non said in court pa­pers dur­ing the di­vorce. But the two re­mained in touch, and she worked on three po­lit­i­cal doc­u­men­taries he di­rected in 2011 and 2012.

Ban­non told his new land­lords that he would be split­ting his time be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Florida, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views The Post con­ducted with the prop­erty own­ers. Ban­non and Clo­hesy both signed the two-year lease, records show.

The lease ap­pli­ca­tion said Ban­non was “re­lo­cat­ing from Cal­i­for­nia.” But Devin Kam­merer, the real es­tate agent who rep­re­sented Ban­non and Clo­hesy, said he never met Ban­non in per­son, and only sent him list­ings by email.

“It was Diane who made the de­ci­sions about where she wanted to be, and she’d send over list­ings to Steve for his ap­proval,” Kam­merer said. “Diane was very clear on what she wanted.”

The $4,900 monthly rent was a big jump for Clo­hesy, who de­clared on the lease ap­pli­ca­tion that her most re­cent apart­ment had cost her $950 a month, doc­u­ments show. But by his own ac­count, Ban­non could af­ford it.

He stated on the ap­pli­ca­tion that he earned $750,000 a year as chair­man of Bre­it­bart News Net­work, a fig­ure that has not been pre­vi­ously re­ported. He also earned $270,000 as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Arc En­ter­tain­ment, a film dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany based in Santa Mon­ica, Calif.

In ad­di­tion, Ban­non re­ceived about $100,000 in salary that year as part-time chair­man of the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity In­sti­tute, a new non­profit char­ity in Tallahassee, ac­cord­ing to fil­ings with the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. Ban­non, two Bre­it­bart writ­ers and other con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists had launched the or­ga­ni­za­tion a year ear­lier, and it pro­duced re­ports and books that were pro­moted by Bre­it­bart. Ban­non claimed he worked 30 hours a week at GAI, ac­cord­ing to IRS fil­ings.

Just weeks after sign­ing the Opechee Drive lease, Ban­non launched “Bre­it­bart News Sun­day with Stephen K. Ban­non,” a three-hour pro­gram broad­cast live Sun­day nights from Sir­iusXM stu­dios in Wash­ing­ton.

In May 2013, Ban­non opened an ac­count in his name for mu­nic­i­pal sewer and wa­ter ser­vice at the Opechee Drive res­i­dence, doc­u­ments show.

The util­ity ac­count is one of the few pub­lic in­di­ca­tions of Ban­non’s pres­ence in Florida. But Ban­non told util­ity of­fi­cials to mail the bills to the of­fice of his busi­ness man­ager on Wil­shire Boule­vard in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained through Florida pub­lic records laws.

Four neigh­bors told The Post they do not re­call see­ing Ban­non at the house.

“I never saw him,” said Steven Chas­tain, who lived a few doors away on a nearby street.

“He wasn’t liv­ing there,” said Bar­bara Pope, a long­time res­i­dent who of­ten walked her dog on Opechee Drive. “I would have rec­og­nized him.”

At the time Ban­non was shar­ing the lease with Clo­hesy in Opechee, she was ap­par­ently in­volved with an­other man. Neigh­bors said they re­peat­edly saw a man they could not iden­tify at the house.

She filed for a re­strain­ing or­der against Jose A. Ca­bana in 2012. He filed one against her in May 2013, court records show. She was granted a two-year in­junc­tion against him, and his com­plaint was dropped after he failed to ap­pear in court. Ca­bana was charged with co­caine dis­tribu-

tion in Novem­ber 2013 and sen­tenced to 10 years in prison. He could not be reached for com­ment.

In October 2013, Clo­hesy be­came en­snared in an un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a jail guard sus­pected of smug­gling drugs and other con­tra­band to an­other man, a friend of hers in the Mi­ami-Dade County Pre-trial De­ten­tion Cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest war­rant for the jail guard first re­ported by the Mi­ami New Times.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors eaves­drop­ping on a phone call be­tween Clo­hesy and the in­mate heard them ar­range for her to de­liver a “pop tart” — code for a cell­phone — along with sev­eral ounces of mar­i­juana to a prison guard, the war­rant said. Clo­hesy, who was un­der sur­veil­lance, later met with the guard in a park­ing lot and handed over the mar­i­juana, the phone and $700 in cash, the war­rant said.

Clo­hesy was con­fronted by author­i­ties and agreed to co­op­er­ate. She told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she had known the in­mate for more than a year and “main­tained a re­la­tion­ship with him through jail vis­its, cor­re­spon­dence and tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions.”

Ef­forts to reach Clo­hesy were un­suc­cess­ful. Her brother, De­clan, pro­vided The Post with a state­ment Fri­day that Ban­non had pro­vided “emo­tional or fi­nan­cial sup­port” to help her re­cover from drug ad­dic­tion and de­pres­sion.

“Steve is a car­ing and com­pas­sion­ate man and Diane is blessed to still have him in her life,” the state­ment said. “We ap­pre­ci­ate the me­dia re­spect­ing my sis­ter’s pri­vacy at this early stage of her re­cov­ery.”

Neigh­bors of the Opechee Drive home said they re­mem­ber Clo­hesy vividly, in part be­cause she had a steady stream of vis­i­tors, some of them dis­rup­tive. Four neigh­bors told The Post that they had a com­mu­nity meet­ing with po­lice to com­plain about noise at the house and cars speed­ing from the premises at late hours.

Po­lice records show that of­fi­cers went to the Opechee ad­dress at least three times over sev­eral months in 2014. The of­fi­cers were re­spond­ing to re­ports about dis­tur­bances, in­clud­ing loud mu­sic. In one case, a woman at the home called po­lice around mid­night to ex­press fears about an ex-boyfriend who was shin­ing a bright light into the win­dows. Her name is redacted in the re­port.

Beatriz Portela, a real es­tate agent who rep­re­sented the Opechee land­lords, said she also re­ceived a call and text mes­sages from neigh­bors who were anx­ious about trou­bling in­ci­dents at the house, in­clud­ing speed­ing ve­hi­cles and a car crash. “They were su­per up­set,” Portela said.

A rov­ing life

On April 2, 2014, more than a year after Ban­non signed the lease on the res­i­dence in Co­conut Grove, he reg­is­tered to vote in Florida and listed the Opechee Drive ad­dress as his le­gal home. Ban­non did not have to show an ID to reg­is­ter. He pro­vided the last four dig­its of his So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber to ver­ify his iden­tity.

One of the al­lures of Florida is its zero in­come tax rate for in­state res­i­dents. The Post was un- able to de­ter­mine what state Ban­non claimed as his pri­mary res­i­dence for the pur­pose of in­come tax.

Ac­coun­tants ad­vise peo­ple who work in mul­ti­ple states to care­fully doc­u­ment the num­ber of nights they spend in Florida and main­tain records of travel, hous­ing, even of meals. Reg­is­ter­ing to vote is con­sid­ered one in­di­ca­tion of res­i­dency, as is a driver’s li­cense. Un­der state law, new res­i­dents must ap­ply for a li­cense within 30 days if they in­tend to op­er­ate a ve­hi­cle.

Phillip Sroka, a part­ner at the ac­count­ing firm of Mor­ri­son, Brown, Ar­giz and Farra in Mi­ami, said he ad­vises clients who split their time in mul­ti­ple states to take care to doc­u­ment their pres­ence in Florida for more than six months. That in­cludes air­line tick­ets, res­tau­rant re­ceipts and util­ity bills.

In an in­ter­view with The Post, Sroka said sus­pi­cions are raised when in­di­vid­u­als have their bills sent out­side the states where they claim their res­i­dences.

“It gets a lit­tle sketchy when you ac­cept em­ploy­ment else­where,” he said. “Where it gets a lit­tle on the line and sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion is where you have a lot of other busi­ness deal­ings else­where.”

As 2015 ap­proached, Ban­non con­tin­ued his rov­ing life. He rented out his La­guna Beach home and, in Jan­uary 2015, bought a town­house as a sec­ond home in Pine­hurst, N.C. The deed lists Ban­non’s mail­ing ad­dress at his money man­ager’s of­fice in Bev­erly Hills.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Ban­non ended the wa­ter and sewer ser­vice at Opechee Drive and switched the ser­vice to On­away Drive, less than a half-mile away in Co­conut Grove, records show. Five days later, Ban­non changed his voter reg­is­tra­tion to On­away Drive.

The Opechee house was left in dis­re­pair, ac­cord­ing to an email be­tween the land­lord and Ban­non and in­ter­views with the land­lord.

Pad­locks had been placed on in­te­rior doors — or the doors had been re­moved al­to­gether. A hot tub was de­stroyed.

“[E]ntire Jacuzzi bath­tub seems to have been cov­ered in acid,” the land­lord wrote in the Fe­bru­ary 2015 email to Ban­non.

“I’m out of town,” Ban­non replied. “is there any way u can talk with Diane and sort things out ???”

The dam­age was es­ti­mated at more than $14,000, ac­cord­ing to an ac­count­ing by the land­lords, who kept the $9,800 se­cu­rity de­posit from Ban­non and Clo­hesy.

Kam­merer, their real es­tate agent, said he was trou­bled by the dam­age.

“I would not work with them after that,” he said. “I would not re­fer them again as clients of mine.”

Around this time, Ban­non was be­com­ing a fix­ture at the Bre­it­bart News town­house lo­ca­tion in Wash­ing­ton, nick­named “the Bre­it­bart Em­bassy,” host­ing par­ties, meet­ing with jour­nal­ists and stay­ing overnight.

In a Bloomberg Busi­ness­week pro­file in October 2015, a re­porter de­scribed in­ter­view­ing Ban­non mul­ti­ple times in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary at the Bre­it­bart town­house in Wash­ing­ton.

The ar­ti­cle, head­lined “This Man Is the Most Dan­ger­ous Po­lit­i­cal Op­er­a­tive in Amer­ica,” de­scribed the build­ing as a “14-room town­house that [Ban­non] oc­cu­pies.”

“Or­di­nar­ily Ban­non’s town­house is crypt-quiet and feels like a mu­seum, as it’s faith­fully dec­o­rated down to its em­broi­dered silk cur­tains and painted mu­rals in au­then­tic Lin­coln-era de­tails,” the ar­ti­cle said.

On Oct. 26, 2015, Sir­iusXM an­nounced that Ban­non’s week­end ra­dio show would ex­pand its live broad­casts to week­day morn­ings from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. from stu­dios in Wash­ing­ton and New York. Don­ald Trump was a guest on the in­au­gu­ral show Nov. 2.

Five months later, Ban­non shut off sewer and wa­ter ser­vice at the On­away ad­dress in Mi­ami. The house re­mained un­in­hab­ited for months.

Three neigh­bors in­ter­viewed by The Post said they were con­fi­dent Ban­non had not lived at the home.

“I of­ten saw Diane,” said Joseph “J.L.” Plum­mer, a prom­i­nent Mi­ami res­i­dent who lived next door and was a city com­mis­sioner for nearly 30 years. “I never saw him.”

In mid-Au­gust, Ban­non be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Trump cam­paign. As he was as­sum­ing con­trol, Ban­non changed the ad­dress on his Florida voter reg­is­tra­tion records. On Aug. 19, he signed an oath that he now lived at the home of a long­time busi­ness as­so­ciate in Nokomis, Fla., in Sara­sota County.

The ques­tions about Ban­non’s res­i­dency emerged Aug. 26, when the Guardian wrote that Ban­non had been reg­is­tered to vote at a va­cant house — the On­away ad­dress in Mi­ami.

The lo­cal NBC sta­tion in Mi­ami re­ported that the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice had re­quested Ban­non’s voter records from county elec­tion of­fi­cials.

At least two peo­ple filed com­plaints about Ban­non with the Florida Depart­ment of State, claim­ing he had com­mit­ted voter fraud by as­sert­ing he was a res­i­dent, doc­u­ments show. In October, the depart­ment said the com­plaints did not merit an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

That month, Ban­non reg­is­tered to vote in New York from a Man­hat­tan condo over­look­ing Bryant Park and later cast an ab­sen­tee bal­lot in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Be­cause he was reg­is­tered in two places, he was later re­moved from Florida’s voter rolls.

Un­der Florida law, it is a third­de­gree felony to pro­vide false in­for­ma­tion on a voter reg­is­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tion. It is pun­ish­able by up to five years in prison. First-time of­fend­ers are rarely given more than pro­ba­tion, some­thing that could also lead to the loss of a se­cu­rity clear­ance.

Of­fi­cials from the State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice for Mi­ami-Dade County, which is led by an elected Demo­crat, de­clined to pro­vide de­tails about their probe into Ban­non’s res­i­dency claim. In deny­ing a Post re­quest for doc­u­ments about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, of­fi­cials cited con­fi­den­tial­ity rules for “ac­tive crim­i­nal in­ves­tiga­tive in­for­ma­tion.”

Spokesman Ed Grif­fith said, “At this point it is not over.”

But prov­ing wrong­do­ing in Ban­non’s case could be dif­fi­cult be­cause state law does not clearly de­fine res­i­dency, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Stephen K. Ban­non told a friend in 2015 that he was liv­ing in mul­ti­ple cities, ac­cord­ing to an email.

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