TAMPA, Florida (AP) — If you were to diagram the increasingly tangled sex scandal surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus, nearly all lines would lead back to one person: Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old Tampa socialite who hosted parties for the nation’s top military brass.
The raven-haired woman’s complaint about anonymous, threatening email triggered the investigation that led to Petraeus’ downfall. And now she is at the center of an investigation of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan over alleged “inappropriate communications” between the two.
Kelley, whose family left Lebanon for the United States in the 1970s, is a close friend of the Petraeus family, and photographs circulating the Internet show her posing for pictures at parties with Petreaus, his wife, and sometimes her husband, a cancer surgeon. Kelley served as a sort of unofficial social ambassador for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, hosting parties for the general when he was commander there from 2008-10.
She met Gen. John Allen while he was at Central Command, and now investigators are looking at 20,000-plus pages of documents and emails between Kelley and Allen, some of which have been described as “flirtatious.” The general has denied any wrongdoing.
For her part, Kelley has taken a low profile since Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, became public. The Kelleys have hired Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, who has represented corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former presidential candidate John Edwards. Lowell did not immediately return a call.
On Tuesday, Kelley could be seen through the large windows of her South Tampa home, a stately two-story brick house with a half-dozen white columns and a manicured lawn. In the driveway was a silver Mercedes with a license plate marked “Honorary Counsel.” Kelley’s identical twin sister, Natalie Khawam, a lawyer, also lives at the home.
In the afternoon, Kelley, wearing dark sunglasses, left through the front door and ignored reporters’ questions as she drove off in the Mercedes.
South Tampa has a conservative Southern upper class, with big houses, big bank accounts, garden clubs and wives who pride themselves on volunteer work. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, headquarters to Central Command, is a big deal in the community, in part because a lot of the brass lives or socializes in South Tampa. Helping members of the military is a major volunteer activity in the community.
Former Mayor Pam Iorio said that she went to several parties to benefit the military at the Kelleys’ home, and they drew MacDill’s top brass, including Petraeus. But they were by far not the only parties held around the city for MacDill’s officers.
“Our community’s relationship with MacDill is just multi-faceted,” said Iorio, who later invited the Petraeuses over to her own home for dinner. “It’s something that is generational. People sincerely care about the military.”
Ken Walters, a neighbor, called the Kelleys good friends, but said he doesn’t see them all that often. Walters said he went to a party the couple had to celebrate their first son’s baptism. The Kelleys have two other children.
“Natalie and her sister, they’re certainly not shrinking violets,” he said. Walters recalled that when the sisters first entered the South Tampa social scene, they “rubbed people the wrong way. I think they probably stepped on a couple of toes.”
Petraeus’ affair with Broadwell was discovered after Kelley told an FBI agent friend that she had received email warning her to stay away from Petraeus. The email turned out to be from Broadwell, who apparently regarded Kelley as a rival for Petraeus’ affections. Kelley’s family and Petraeus aides have said Petraeus and Kelley were just friends.
In another strange footnote to the scandal, long before the case involving Petraeus got under way, the FBI agent had sent Kelley shirtless photos of himself, according to a federal law enforcement official.
Jill Kelley’s brother David Khawam told WPVI-TV in Philadelphia on Monday night that details of the allegations surged fast.
“It’s happened extremely quickly, we’re talking 12, 24 hours, maximum, since we’ve found out about this. It’s a shock. We’re trying to figure out where the pieces are falling right now,” Khawam said in the interview done at his offices in Westmont, New Jersey.
He said that his family left Lebanon for Huntingdon Valley in Montgomery County in Pennsylvania in the 1970s to escape turmoil and fighting. His parents opened a Middle Eastern food restaurant in Vorhees, New Jersey, called Sahara.
“My family is very patriotic; we came from Lebanon at a young age,” he said.
Kelley later married and moved to Florida with her husband, who works at a cancer clinic.
Kelley regularly kept in touch with Petraeus when he became commander of the Afghanistan war effort, the two exchanging near-daily emails and instant messages, two of his former staffers said. But those messages were exchanged in accounts that his aides monitored as part of their duties and were not romantic in tone, the staffers said.
Jill and Scott Kelley have been involved in at least nine legal actions since arriving in Tampa, according to court records. Most of them involve real estate transactions, including one foreclosure and an $11,000 judgment against the couple in a Pennsylvania case.
In another twist in the scandal, court records indicate that Petraeus and Allen intervened two months ago in a messy custody dispute on behalf of Jill Kelley’s sister. Both four-star generals wrote letters supporting Natalie Khawam in a custody battle over her son.
The judge in the case awarded Khawam’s ex-husband custody last year of their son. He also called Khawam dishonest and lacking in integrity.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.