Tampa socialite Jill Kelley considered David and Holly Petraeus family friends
Kelley and her husband founded a charity while battling lawsuits, foreclosure and debt
She hosted big charity bash for military; Kelley's brother calls her "dedicated wife"
It seems like everybody loves a good scandal except the people involved in it.
How must it feel to be Jill Kelley right now?
Talking heads, journalists and the Chatty Cathys everywhere are telling stories about her and how she might be tied to the downfall of America’s top spy, David Petraeus. National security secrets could be at stake, though no one has offered proof of a breach.
She’s kept quiet, yet details of her personal life are quickly leaking out. Reports don’t reveal much except that she’s a socialite who threw charity events for the military community in Tampa where she lives with her oncologist husband and three kids.
Her hometown newspaper in Philadelphia trotted out some basic biography: Kelley’s parents immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1970s and once ran a restaurant in New Jersey. She has a twin sister.
A picture of Kelley walking out of her home wearing a smart canary yellow dress and carrying a hot pink handbag has led stories on major news outlets with headlines such as Family: Scandal will ‘brand’ Jill Kelley ‘for life’ and Jill Kelley: Five Facts About the Petraeus Affair’s Mystery Woman.
It all sounds so salacious. And some of it is very harsh.
A senior official close to another military superstar ensnared in the controversy – the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen – called Kelley a “bored, rich socialite involved with every single senior commander” because she did unpaid work as a military “honorary ambassador.”
Allen has his own role in this controversy. More on him later.
What is known, beyond all the speculation and whispered excitement, is what the FBI has said, according to U.S. officials: Last summer, Kelley went to a friend who worked at the agency’s Tampa branch because she was receiving allegedly “jealous” e-mails from an unknown person.
That person is now believed to be Paula Broadwell, a woman with whom Petraeus was having an affair.
Petraeus, who has acknowledged his relationship with Broadwell, is a married father of two who many regarded as one of the finest military commanders in recent U.S. history.
Before the scandal broke, Broadwell said in numerous interviews to plug her book about him, titled “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” that she spent hours with Petraeus in Afghanistan. The two bonded on long runs together, she said.
Critics have described Broadwell’s biography as gushing. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart joked about whether her book made Petraeus look “awesome or incredibly awesome.”
Now “All In” is being parsed for double entendres.
FBI investigators, whose investigation began with Kelley’s complaint, eventually found explicit e-mail exchanges between Petraeus and Broadwell that revealed the affair.
Petraeus resigned as CIA chief on Friday, writing to CIA staff that he’d acted in ways “unacceptable both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”
Cue the insatiable news media and its endless news cycle. By Monday, FBI agents had searched Broadwell’s tony home in Charlotte, North Carolina, telling CNN they were looking for any documents sensitive to national security.
Back in Tampa, Kelley called 911 on November 11 complaining that a man she didn’t know was on her property and told police that she is an “honorary consul general,” which meant she has “inviolability.”
“So they should not be able to cross my property,” she told the 911 operator. “I don’t know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well …”
Kelley called police at least five times concerning people in and around her home, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy told CNN. Reporters are outside the residence.
Kelley appears to be a volunteer who helped to welcome international visitors to Tampa but had no official job with the U.S. government or the State Department, CNN learned Wednesday.
Top military brass have been guests at the Kelley home, but it’s unclear if Allen or Petraeus were aware of the Kelleys’ financial difficulties or the unusual background of a charity they founded.
Public records show that in April of 2010, about six years after the Kelleys purchased their $1.5 million home, Regions Bank filed to foreclose on the property, saying the couple hadn’t made a mortgage payment since September 2009.
The Kelley family faced at least nine lawsuits involving money, according to public records, including large unpaid credit card bills of more than $320,000.
The records also say the Kelleys founded a cancer research charity in 2005 called the Doctor Kelley Cancer Foundation.
But in a telling 2008 federal tax return, the Kelleys’ charity reported that it spent the exact same amount of money as it raised – $157,000.
The charity’s money paid for parties, transportation, legal bills and other administrative costs. There is no evidence any of the money was used for cancer research or caring for cancer patients.
Asked for the Kelleys’ side of the story, a source close to the family told CNN the source didn’t have enough information to respond.
For its part, the U.S. Central Command released a statement saying that Kelley has “no official position with U.S. Central Command. She is a volunteer and a private citizen, not an employee; because of this, and because there is an ongoing investigation, we have no additional information to provide.”
Kelley and her husband, Scott, haven’t talked to reporters. Earlier they released two sentences:
“We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years. We respect his and his family’s privacy and want the same for us and our three children.”
More glimpses at the Kelleys come from a gossip column in 2010 in the Tampa Bay Times. It describes Petraeus and his wife arriving in a 28-cop motorcade to a pirate-themed party under a white tent on Jill and Scott Kelley’s front lawn. High-profile partiers munched lamb and crab cakes.
Petraeus wore a tan baseball hat and an outfit that looked more suited for mall speed-walking than black-tie waltzing. Holly Petraeus, to whom he’s been married for more than 37 years, posed for a photo with Kelley and her twin sister, Natalie Khawam.
Kelley was dedicated to helping host parties that benefited the military, local event planner Linda Baldwin told the Tampa Bay Times.
“Jill was such an awesome client,” said Baldwin, the owner of Events by Amore, which catered the pirate party Petraeus attended. Kelley “did so much for the military, fabulous mother and amazing wife; can’t say enough nice things about her. She never spared anything for the military. It was all about them.”
Karyn Anjali is a longtime social and celebrity columnist for Tampa area high society magazine Panache Vue. She said she frequents many military functions as well as the celebrity affairs in the area. She told CNN she’d never heard of Kelley.
“I have no idea who she is. I have handled all the major events in this town for a long time now, and I am a little surprised I don’t know her,” Anjali said. “A lot of us go to the same places, the same restaurants for lunch, the same parties, the same functions. I myself am quite well-known, and I do not know her.”
So far the only member of Kelley’s family who has spoken to reporters is her brother David Khawam.
“My sister got anonymous e-mails,” he told CNN affiliate KYW Philadelphia. “Because of her stature and her position, she was scared. She filed a complaint with the local authorities, and that trickled down to everything that’s going on right now.”
Kelley is a “dedicated mother, a dedicated wife,” her brother added.
After that initial interview with the affiliate, Khawam refused to talk further and referred all media inquiries to Judy Smith, Washington’s top scandal spinner who is said to have inspired the new television drama “Scandal.”
Jill Kelley has retained Smith and top Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, famous for representing clients such as disgraced former Sen. John Edwards and ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Regardless of who is talking, the scandal involving Kelley is growing by the hour.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that the investigation surrounding Petraeus and Broadwell has expanded to include Allen. Allen replaced Petraeus after he left that post to lead the CIA.
According to U.S. officials, the FBI has looked at between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of documents — most of them e-mails — and have found “potentially inappropriate” correspondence between Kelley and Allen.
Some of the e-mails between Allen and Kelley might be described as “flirtatious,” according to a defense official who was cleared to speak to the media.
However, the official told CNN that flirtatious could mean anything from “Hey, you look good in that dress the other night” to something more serious.
“There was no security information exchanged. There was nothing hateful in the messages,” the official said. “It was not threatening.”
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Chris Lawrence and Drew Griffin contributed to this report.