TAMPA — Mark Rosenthal remembers the first time he saw Jill Kelley and her identical twin in action. It was at a dinner party at then-Gen. David Petraeus' house, and he was appalled.
"They took over the whole conversation," he said. While the man responsible for overseeing two wars nodded politely, Kelley and her sister, Natalie Khawam, talked nonstop about shopping and traveling. "To me it was out of line."
Rosenthal, a retired developer, was a civilian liaison to military leaders at MacDill Air Force Base. It's the same unofficial job that Kelley performed until she triggered an FBI investigation that ultimately exposed Petraeus' affair with his biographer.
Rosenthal told the Tampa Bay Times that he saw Kelley, 37, at numerous events and she was invariably "loud, ostentatious and revealing." She flirted. She hugged and kissed high-ranking military officials. She wore short dresses. And she bombarded generals with chatty emails.
Her personal emails to Marine Gen. John R. Allen, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, which investigators say number in the thousands of pages, have put Allen's nomination to NATO commander on hold.
Rosenthal never saw the emails but said that Gen. Allen's wife had complained about them to Rosenthal's wife. Rosenthal agreed they were out of line and told Kelley so.
"I called her probably three times and told her not to send any more emails," Rosenthal said. The last time was several months ago, he said. He never heard back.
"I thought it was ridiculous. Who the hell is she?" Rosenthal said. "These guys are protecting the world."
If Kelley wanted to elevate her social standing through MacDill and its cloistered world of secrets and security, one of the biggest obstacles might be the one most obvious — simply getting in.
So this friend of MacDill became a Friend of MacDill.
In November 2010, Kelley passed a background check and was given a MacDill ID allowing her onto the base without a military escort in daylight hours whenever she desired.
The ID is one of about 800 issued by the 6th Air Mobility Wing in a program called Friends of MacDill. Kelley would have been among the first area residents to take part.
"Some people have told me they've lived their whole lives in Tampa and never set foot on the base," Col. Lenny Richoux, former wing commander, told the Tampa Bay Times in a 2011 story. "So I said, 'Well, come on down and see. This is federal property. This belongs to you.' "
The wing serves as something akin to a landlord for other commands at the base, including U.S. Central Command. Petraeus was CentCom's chief from 2008 to 2010. The wing is in charge of base security, and its armed personnel stand watch at MacDill's entry gates.
Kelley obtained the ID four months after Petraeus left CentCom in June 2010 to take command of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Allen, as deputy commander, served as CentCom's acting chief for six weeks after Petraeus' departure.
Kelley's pass was renewed in February 2012 but was revoked Tuesday until an investigation is completed into her email relationship with Allen.
Timm Sweeney, who runs an international marketing and research firm in Tampa, told the Times last year that he was a participant in the Friends program.
"MacDill has a very good vetting process," he said. "It's not like they're just inviting any crazy on the base."
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In late August, the Republican National Convention in Tampa served as the backdrop to a bizarre business meeting that showed how Kelley used her military connections to open doors off the base as well as on.
Adam Victor, president of TransGas Development in New York, was in town to network and find business opportunities. Someone introduced him to Kelley, and the two spoke in a VIP section of the convention hall.
Victor said Kelley described herself as a close friend to Petraeus, which impressed him. In fact, he said, Kelley told him she might help him with a coal gasification project in South Korea. She said she could gain him access to the highest levels of the South Korean government, Victor said.
Kelley told him she was an honorary consul for South Korea, and Victor said she told him she had obtained the position with the help of Petraeus.
Kelley and Victor later met in New York. Kelley mentioned her fee if any deal was brokered — $80 million. The fee was so unrealistic and excessive, Victor said, he immediately realized he was dealing with an amateur. He rejected it out of hand. He said Kelley then asked for a counter proposal. But Victor wasn't biting.
"It's stupidity," said Victor, who nonetheless said he liked Kelley. "It's inexperience. I got annoyed because it was clear that I had wasted my time and money."
The Korean Embassy confirmed Wednesday that Kelley was appointed as one of its honorary consuls in August. South Korea is one of more than 50 member nations represented at MacDill's Coalition Village. Embassy officials declined further comment.
The official South Korean news agency reported that Kelley had "good connections and network and a willingness to develop Korea-U.S. relations," including free trade. CNN said South Korean officials are monitoring the sex scandal and will revoke her status if she proves "problematic."
The post is unpaid and comes with no official duties. But such consuls must be approved by the U.S. State Department, which issues honorary consuls an ID.
In a recent 911 call to Tampa police, Kelley complained about crowds of reporters around her home of Bayshore Boulevard.
"I am an honorary consul general, so I have involability (sic). . . . They should not be able to block my property," she told police. "I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well."
The State Department website notes honorary consuls have no such protection. Her State Department ID card says, "The bearer shall be treated with due respect."
"You can't go speeding and then tell the sheriff you're an honorary consul and immune from getting a ticket," said Carl Kuttler, former president of St. Petersburg College and a longtime honorary consul for Russia.
Kelley was proud of her titles.
"Btw I was made the (honorary) Ambassador to US Central Command's Coalition!" she told a Times reporter in a Sept. 28 email. "In addition to that, I was just recently appointed to be the Honorary Consulate General to South Korea! I'm in DC today — just left from breakfast at the White House. . . . I really hope to see you soon!"
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said she knew Kelley and her husband, Dr. Scott Kelley, 46, a cancer surgeon at the Watson Clinic in Lakeland.
The Kelleys called Iorio's office after she was first elected mayor in 2003 and invited her to a military-oriented reception they were hosting — Gen. Tommy Franks, then the commander of CentCom was among the guests — in the private room of a local restaurant.
Later, Jill Kelley told Iorio she wanted to become more involved in the community, so Iorio began looking for things Kelley could "pour her energy into." In 2009, Iorio appointed her to the board of the Henry B. Plant Museum, and, after a three-year term, Mayor Bob Buckhorn re-appointed Kelley this year at the museum's request.
Jill Kelley was nowhere to be seen Wednesday outside her Bayshore Boulevard mansion, but there were signs that life inside continued with at least a little routine.
A nanny came and went several times, once getting groceries and once with one of Kelley's daughters. Delivery men for both UPS and FedEx dropped off packages.
Outside, three vehicles were parked in the drive — a Mercedes-Benz, a Volvo and a Lincoln Navigator. Two of them — the Mercedes and Lincoln — displayed license plates saying the driver was an "honorary consul."
Iorio expressed dismay Wednesday that Kelley's behavior might define Tampa's relationship with the military. "Our relationship with the military is very deep and sincere and represents thousands of people. This one couple and their parties are not really representative of what we do for the military."
Nevertheless, the brash sisters made a lasting impression.
"They're both pretty women, they're both really revealing, and they know how to talk to men," Mark Rosenthal said. "They can bring a man off-guard."
Times staff writers Amy Scherzer, Richard Danielson, Mark Puente and Ben Montgomery and researchers John Martin and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.