Fla. party hostess in Petraeus downfall had financial problems

2012-11-14T12:11:00Z 2012-12-04T20:04:25Z Fla. party hostess in Petraeus downfall had financial problemsMichael C. Bender and Phil Mattingly 2012, Bloomberg News Arizona Daily Star

 TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jill Kelley, the Florida woman whose complaint about harassing e-mails opened an FBI investigation ensnaring two four-star U.S. generals, is known for hosting military officers at her waterfront home in Tampa — across the bay from New York Yankee Derek Jeter's home — and once cooked alligator as a Food Network game-show contestant.

She and her husband, a cancer surgeon, also have been sued over financial matters at least eight times, with two of the cases involving property foreclosures.

Kelley, 37, is a mother of three young daughters who, upon moving to Tampa from Pennsylvania about a decade ago, joined several nonprofits before finding her niche in the city's social scene for officers at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, said Don Phillips, a family friend.

Her party-giving led to her friendships with former Army Gen. David Petraeus, who last week resigned as CIA director after acknowledging an extramarital affair, and Marine Gen. John Allen, whose e-mails with Kelley have stalled his nomination as NATO's supreme allied commander.

Kelley "is very excited about the pageantry of the military. She takes great interest in it," said Phillips, a Tampa developer and Republican Party fundraiser. "She's charming and attractive and loves to throw a good party.

"Jill is very engaging and gregarious and can also be overwhelming," Phillips said. "I can see how she might make women feel edgy."

Kelley's close ties to Petraeus and Allen were revealed after she complained to an acquaintance, an FBI agent, about anonymous e-mails she was getting that she said were threatening and harassing, according to two law enforcement officials.

The FBI probe revealed the sender was Paula Broadwell, Petraeus's biographer, who was having an extramarital affair with the CIA director, according to three persons briefed on the probe.

The investigation also showed flirtatious e-mails between Allen and Kelley, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The e-mails don't necessarily indicate an adulterous relationship, which is considered a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official said. Allen, who is in charge of allied forces in Afghanistan, has denied acting inappropriately.

His nomination by President Obama last month to become NATO's supreme allied commander is on hold, said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, in an e-mailed statement.

Kelley moved to Florida in 2003 when her husband was hired at Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the state's only hospital certified by the National Cancer Institute. Scott Kelley is now a surgeon at the Watson Clinic in Lakeland, Fla.

The Kelleys released a statement Saturday saying they have been friends with Petraeus and his family "for over five years."

Petraeus was the leader of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa from 2008 to 2010. Allen served as its deputy commander from 2008 to 2011.

On Tuesday, a Lincoln Navigator that had left Kelley's two-story brick home on Sunday pulled into the driveway past more than two dozen reporters and TV cameras. Two women and two children exited the car and went inside without speaking to the media.

Kelley tried to remove reporters on Sunday by asking a 911 dispatcher for "diplomatic immunity." The silver Mercedes S500 in her driveway has a Florida Honorary Consul license plate.

"I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property," according to a recording of the call. "I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well."

Calls and e-mails seeking comment weren't returned by Kelley's Washington-based public relations consultant Judy Smith, who represented Monica Lewinsky after her affair in the mid-1990s with then-President Bill Clinton, or the family's Washington attorney, Abbe Lowell. Lowell's clients have included lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who went to prison after bilking Indian tribes, and John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate who later acknowledged an extramarital affair.

Kelley's friendship with Petraeus and his wife, Holly, is reflected in court documents. In a 2012 letter, he supported Kelley's sister in a child custody battle, according to District of Columbia Superior Court records.

Petraeus wrote that he and his wife got to know Natalie Khawam, Kelley's sister, "through our friendship with Dr. and Mrs. Scott Kelley" and hosted the Kelleys, Khawam and Khawam's young son for Christmas dinner last year.

Holly Petraeus submitted a letter supporting Khawam in the custody fight in late 2011, and Allen also vouched for her in a letter, saying they were both at "social functions" on "multiple occasions."

Those relationships grew from Kelley's hosting officers from the military base, Phillips said. Tampa families try to befriend officers who rarely have social connections in the city, Phillips said. Officers are encouraged to retire in the city because of their friendships, Phillips said.

"There's a certain allure to the responsibility that Petraeus held," Phillips said. "The family relationship Jill has with David is certainly something beyond what myself and my wife would do."

Kelley often hosts officers at her home on Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Hillsborough Bay. Hillsborough County records show the Kelleys paid $1.5 million for the 4,900-square-foot home.

The street is the parade route for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which commemorates a 1904 pirate invasion, according to the fest's website. In recent years, Kelley had a white tent pitched on her yard and had beads created to hand out as she and Scott Kelley hosted officers to watch the festival, said Renée Vaughn, a public relations consultant who attended the party this year.

"She's very warm and welcoming with people in her home," said Vaughn, who sits on a local museum board with Kelley. "She makes a point of telling people how nice they look."

Kelley also hosted parties for officials from South Asia, Egypt and Australia who came to the United States as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program run by the State Department, said Gary Springer, president of the International Council of the Tampa Bay Region.

"She has been a delightful volunteer for us," Springer said. "It's not easy to find people who are willing to open their homes up and entertain people. But Jill's been great at it."

Described by friends as a frequent traveler who enjoys pricey restaurants, Kelley drew attention for her wardrobe when she dressed in "Brooks Brothers black" to participate in a 2003 Food Network cooking competition, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

She was joined on the show by Khawam, wearing a Chanel blouse, leather skirt and Gucci heels, as they competed in a sibling rivalry against a pair of brothers to cook alligator.

Kelley and her husband have been sued at least eight times since moving to Tampa, according to court records. They have lost judgments totaling $22,000 over disputes with a sign company, an elevator company and a Pennsylvania couple over a summer rental.

Last year, the couple lost a foreclosure case filed by Central Bank involving an office building, which was sold to satisfy a judgment of $2.2 million, including attorneys' fees, according to the records.

Also in 2011, they lost a $271,000 foreclosure case filed by Region's Bank on their Tampa home. An indebtedness case filed by Chase Bank was settled last year, and the Kelleys are in litigation with Fia Card Services over a credit card.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Kelley moved in the mid-1970s with her family to northeast Philadelphia where they were the "oddballs" in a mostly Irish and German neighborhood, Kelley's brother, David Khawam, said in an interview outside his Mount Laurel, N.J., home.

Her family opened restaurants in the area, he said.

Raised in a conservative home by a father who was an accomplished pianist in his homeland, Khawam said his sister wouldn't have an affair because "it wouldn't fly."

"We're religious, we're dedicated," he said. "She would be disowned."

— With assistance from Andrew Zajac and Tony Capaccio in Washington, Sophia Pearson and Romy Varghese in Philadelphia, Joe Belcastro in Tampa and Susannah Nesmith in Miami.

 

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