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Socialite's climb halted by unfolding scandal

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm •  Published: November 14, 2012
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) —   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 Accounts of lavish parties at her bay front mansion have been replaced by reports of her family's financial woes and other dirty laundry, and claims that she traded on her acquaintance with David Petraeus to try to further lucrative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.

  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 says he concluded that she had little to offer in the way of deal-making expertise or connections with Korean leaders.

  The AP 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 Petreaus 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, three-and-a-half-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.

For instance, the connection of another local couple, John and Leslie Osterweil, with MacDill and CentCom started more than two decades ago, when a teacher at their son's exclusive prep school asked him to take a general's boy "under his wing." That boy's father was then CentCom commander in chief, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. Since then, John Osterweil has become a regular presence on the base. He counts Allen and Petraeus as close friends, and each has visited the other's home.

  "You know, a lot of people are enamored by people who are high-ranking generals and admirals," he says. "I mean, a lot of people look at them in some type of a different light. I look at them as nice people that are my friends."

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, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter publicly.

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." 

"Nothing different or special," who has attended several events at the Kelley home. "Standard procedure. Have a caterer. Feed people. Give them something to drink. And let them mix."

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.

Meanwhile, Khawam, Kelley's twin, has had legal troubles of her own.

She sued Cohen's firm, where she was an attorney, claiming sexual harassment by the chief financial officer.

  In court responses, Cohen said Khawam "has a judicially documented recent history and continuing propensity for the commission of perjury." He cited a court filing in the District of Columbia that described Khawam as having a "willingness to say anything, even under oath, to advance her own personal interests at the expense of ... others."

Khawam, who earned $270,822 in 2010, according to a court filing, has filed for bankruptcy.

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