Florida Party Host in Petraeus Downfall Had Financial Issues

Jill Kelley
Jill Kelley leaves her home Monday, Nov 12, 2012 in Tampa. Photographer: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

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 where New York Yankee Derek Jeter lives -- 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 with her husband about a decade ago, joined several nonprofits before finding her niche as a denizen of 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 General David H. Petraeus, who last week resigned as Central Intelligence Agency director after acknowledging an extramarital affair, and Marine General John Allen, whose e-mails with Kelley have stalled his nomination by President Barack Obama to become NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.

Central Command yesterday revoked Kelley’s standing in “Friends of MacDill,” a group of civilians who can visit the base without supervision, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity. Kelley has been in the group in 2010.

“Jill is very involved and engaging,” said Phillips, a Tampa developer and Republican Party fundraiser. “She’s charming and attractive and loves to throw a good party.”

‘Excited’ About Pageantry

Phillips said Kelley “is very excited about the pageantry of the military. She takes great interest in it.”

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 probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered the sender was Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s biographer, who was having an extramarital affair with the CIA director, according to three people briefed on the probe.

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

The investigation also showed flirtatious e-mail exchanges 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 on Hold

Allen, who is in charge of allied forces in Afghanistan, has denied he acted inappropriately, the U.S. defense official said. His nomination last month to become NATO’s supreme allied commander has been put on hold, said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, in an e-mailed statement.

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

Kelley and her husband released a statement on Nov. 10 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.

Media Stakeout

Outside her two-story brick home, which faces the Davis Islands home of Jeter, the shortstop for the New York Yankees baseball team, a Lincoln Navigator that left the home on Nov. 11 pulled into the driveway yesterday and past more than two dozen reporters and TV cameras. Two women and two children exited the car and went into the home without speaking to the media.

Kelley tried to remove reporters on Nov. 11 by asking a 9-1-1 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.”

Abramoff Lawyer

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 said in the letter that he and his wife got to know Natalie Khawam, Kelley’s sister, “through our friendship with Dr. and Mrs. Scott Kelley.” Petraeus said he and his wife hosted the Kelleys, her sister and the sister’s young son “for Christmas dinner this past year.”

Holly Petraeus submitted a letter supporting Khawam in the custody fight in late 2011.

Allen, who was deputy commander of the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, also vouched for Kelley’s sister in a letter, saying there were “multiple occasions” when they were both at “social functions.”

Social Functions

Those relationships grew from Kelley’s hosting officers from the military base, Phillips said. He said he, Kelley and other Tampa families try to befriend officers who rarely have social connections in the city. 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 the officers at her home on Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Hillsborough Bay. The Kelleys paid $1.5 million for the 4,900-square-foot home, according to Hillsborough County records.

The street is the parade route for the city’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which commemorates a 1904 pirate invasion, according to the fest’s website.

Lawn Tent

In recent years, Kelley had a white tent pitched on her yard and had beads created to hand out as she and her husband hosted officers to watch the festival, said Renée Vaughn, a Tampa-based 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 at her pre-1940s-style home for officials from South Asia, Egypt and Australia who came to the U.S. as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program run by the State Department, said Gary L. 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.”

’Brooks Brothers Black’

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 her sister, who wore 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 they moved 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 Regions 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.

Beirut Native

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, New Jersey, 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.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE