Jill Kelley, the Tampa 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 -- 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 Tampa’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 CIA 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.
“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 who is an FBI agent about e-mails she was getting that she said were threatening and harassing, according to two law enforcement officials.
The investigation revealed the sender was Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ biographer, who was having an extramarital affair with the CIA director, according to three persons 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 to reporters on a military plane 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, according to a defense official at the Pentagon.
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 Veitor, 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 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.
Outside her two-story brick home, which faces the Davis Island home of Jeter, the shortstop for the New York Yankees professional baseball team, a Lincoln Navigator that left the home on Nov. 11 pulled into the driveway today 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.
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 as well as his wife, Holly, is reflected in court documents. In a 2012 letter, he supported Jill 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 “multiple occasions” when they were both at “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 connect with 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.
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.”
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’ve 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.
Kelley’s brother, David Khawam, told KYW-TV in Philadelphia yesterday that Kelley went to authorities about the e-mails ‘because she was scared.” He described his sister as “a dedicated mother and a dedicated wife.”
He also said it would be “completely uncharacteristic of her to have a romantic relationship outside of her marriage.”
Kelley’s Lebanese family immigrated to Philadelphia in the mid-1970s, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her parents, John and Marcelle Khawam, had businesses in the area, including a Middle Eastern restaurant.
The Inquirer described Kelley’s father as an accomplished organist in his homeland and her mother as a chef who liked to entertain political and cultural figures.
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