Petraeus scandal's Jill Kelley a socialite who enjoys parties but has debts

The woman at the centre of the Petraeus-Allen debacle loves the military and thinks of herself as a diplomat, but her life is in a financial mess

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 8:59am

Jill Kelley, the Florida woman whose complaint about harassing e-mails opened an FBI investigation ensnaring two four-star US generals, is known for hosting military officers at her waterfront mansion in Tampa and once cooked alligator on a Food Network reality-show.

But even before her association with David Petraeus and John Allen became public fodder, the fame-seeking socialite was at the heart of a maelstrom of financial and personal woes that belied a glamorous lifestyle.

Kelley and her husband, a cancer surgeon, have been repeatedly sued over financial matters, with two of the cases involving property foreclosures and others involving unpaid credit card debt.

Her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who secured character references from generals Petraeus and Allen in a messy custody dispute, declared bankruptcy in April with US$3.6 million in debt.

Ken Walters, a neighbour of Jill Kelley, said the twins knew how to enjoy themselves. "Natalie and her sister, they're certainly not shrinking violets," he said.

Jill Kelley, 37, is a mother of three young daughters who moved to Tampa from Pennsylvania about a decade ago. She found her niche as a denizen of the city's social scene for officers at US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, said Don Phillips, a family friend.

Her party-giving led to her friendships with former Army General Petraeus, who last week resigned as CIA director, and Marine General Allen, whose e-mails with Kelley have stalled his nomination 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."

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

"Jill is very 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 US defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Allen, who is in charge of allied forces in Afghanistan, has denied he acted inappropriately.

Kelley and her husband released a statement on November 10 saying they had been friends with Petraeus and his family "for over five years".

Kelley tried to remove reporters from outside her home on Sunday by asking emergency services for "diplomatic immunity". "I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property," she said according to a recording of the call.

Kelley's friendship with Petraeus is reflected in court documents. In a 2012 letter, he supported Kelley's sister in her child custody battle.

In the letter he said he and his wife got to know Natalie Khawam "through our friendship with Dr and Mrs Scott Kelley." He said they hosted the Kelleys, her sister and the sister's young son "for Christmas dinner this past year".

Allen also vouched for Kelley's sister in a letter, saying there were "multiple occasions" when they were both at "social functions".

Kelley and her husband have been sued at least eight times since they moved to Tampa, according to court records, losing judgments totalling US$22,000.

Last year, the couple lost a foreclosure case filed by Central Bank involving an office building, which was sold to satisfy a judgment of US$2.2 million. Also in 2011, they lost a US$271,000 foreclosure case filed by Region's Bank on their Tampa home.