Socialite’s climb halted by scandal
Base commander revokes Kelley’s pass
TAMPA, Fla. – Jill Kelley’s attempt to climb the Tampa social ladder – the rungs of which included some high-ranking military officials – has come to an ignominious halt. Accounts of lavish parties at her bay-front mansion have been replaced by reports of her family’s financial woes and other dirty laundry, and claims that she traded on her acquaintance with David Petraeus to try to further lucrative business dealings. Now, even her “Friends of MacDill” Air Force base access pass has been unceremoniously revoked.
The tangled web enveloping the daughter of Lebanese refugees, her twin sister, former CIA chief Petraeus, and Marine Gen. John Allen, who succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan, has spread to include questions about a cancer charity Kelley and her doctor-husband, Scott, founded.
Although Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell, was the immediate cause of his downfall, Kelley and her relations with the Tampa base and the U.S. Central Command have surfaced as a sort of connective tissue for the growing scandal.
Friends in high places
On Wednesday, a New York businessman said Kelley was introduced to him at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August as someone whose friendship with Petraeus would help facilitate a no-bid deal with South Korea on a coal-gasification project. She would supposedly be in a position to help broker the billion-dollar deal directly with the Korean president, and expected a 2 percent commission, said Adam Victor, president and chief executive officer of TransGas Development Systems.
Kelley is an honorary consul for South Korea, a ceremonial position, and got diplomatic plates for her car. But after flying Kelley to New York to discuss how she could help, Victor said he concluded that she had little to offer in the way of deal-making expertise or connections with Korean leaders.
The Associated Press also learned Wednesday that Kelley attended an FBI “Citizens’ Academy” last year. It was Kelley’s complaints to an FBI agent about alleged threats from Broadwell that led to the general’s resignation last week and has sidelined Allen’s nomination to become the next commander of U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe.
The agent was Frederick W. Humphries, 47, a veteran counterterrorism investigator in the Tampa office, and he was among the FBI employees Kelley met during the academy, which lasted from Sept. 13 to Nov. 30, 2011, the AP learned.
Both Petraeus and Allen have been guests at the Kelleys’ 5,000-square-foot home on Bayshore Boulevard, which records show they purchased in 2004 for about $1.5 million. Jill Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, also lives there.
The five-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath brick Colonial with its stately white columns is on the main parade route for the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa’s answer to Mardi Gras. And the couple soon gained a reputation for their sumptuous and well-attended affairs.
Jill Kelley, 37, and her husband – a cancer surgeon – are members of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club.
The relationship between the Kelleys and Petraeus began in late 2008, when he came to MacDill to assume command of CENTCOM. The couple threw a welcome party for him, and he reportedly watched his first Gasparilla pirate parade from the Kelleys’ lawn.
Kelley’s overtures to the military brass are, in and of themselves, nothing extraordinary. In fact, most of these civilian-military relationships begin innocently enough.
But Petraeus aides say Jill Kelley took it to another level, winning the title of “honorary ambassador” for her extensive entertaining at her home on behalf of the command, throwing parties that raised her social status in Tampa through the reflected glow of the four-star general in attendance.
Petraeus honored the couple with an award, given to them in a special ceremony at the Pentagon just before he departed the military for his post at the CIA, an aide said.
Aaron Fodiman, who’s been publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine for 27 years, said people like Petraeus and Allen usually don’t know anyone when they arrive, and that people like Kelley act as “the welcome wagon.” But while he described the hostess as “outgoing and effervescent,” he said her parties “were like everybody else’s parties.”
Behind the facade
But behind the scenes, this veneer of upward mobility was showing signs of cracking.
Hundreds of pages of court files in numerous cases portray the occupants of 1005 Bayshore Boulevard as both litigious and financially strained.
The Kelleys’ investment in a Tampa office building went sour when a $28,000-a-month tenant balked at payment because of problems with the air conditioning system. The couple later defaulted on the mortgage, and the property went into foreclosure.
An attorney who represented the Kelleys in that case, Barry Cohen, ultimately became the target of a lawsuit over his legal fees. Chase Bank sued Scott Kelley over a $25,880.56 unpaid credit card bill.
In 2005, the Kelleys established Doctor Kelley Cancer Foundation Inc., with themselves and Khawam as its sole directors, according to the Florida Department of State. Its mission statement says the organization, which was based out of the Kelley home, was created to “conduct research studies into efforts to discover ways to improve the quality of life of terminally ill adult cancer patients.”
In 2007, the last year for which it filed paperwork, the foundation reported revenues of $157,284 to the Internal Revenue Service, all from direct donations, according to its tax filing. The document lists expenses totaling precisely the same amount, including $43,317 for meals and entertainment, $38,610 for travel, $25,013 in legal fees, $8,067 for supplies and $5,082 in phone bills.
The filing claims $58,417 of its expenses went toward program services, but it’s unclear what those services entailed.
As the Pentagon looks into up to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents – some characterized as “inappropriate communications” – between Jill Kelley and Allen, MacDill’s commander on Tuesday revoked her access pass.
Kelley was issued the pass, one of about 800 handed out under a program to promote interaction with the civilian population, in November 2010, according to a military source.