TAMPA — With their lives disrupted by unrelenting media scrutiny, leaks by government agencies and tawdry gossip, socialite Jill Kelley and her husband are fighting back — through their attorney.
In the Kelleys' first legal broadside, their attorney sent missives saying comments about the couple by some of their main antagonists were inappropriate, inaccurate and defamatory, according to three letters obtained Tuesday by the Tampa Bay Times.
Two letters sent by Kelley attorney Abbe Lowell concerned separate comments made by New York businessman Adam Victor and Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen. A third letter was sent to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, complaining of government leaks and raising the possibility of a civil suit over privacy.
Lowell has represented clients such as former presidential candidate John Edwards and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Over the summer, Kelley, 37, told an FBI agent about anonymous and threatening emails she had received, which ultimately exposed an extramarital affair between biographer Paula Broadwell and then-CIA director David Petraeus.
The revelation ended the career of the retired general, who once had been leader of Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base and counted the Kelleys as friends.
Lowell's harshest comments were aimed at Victor, who has granted numerous interviews telling reporters about a deal to build a coal-gasification plant he said Kelley tried to help broker earlier this year between his firm and South Korean interests.
Kelley said she could help because, as a South Korean honorary consul, she had government contacts in that nation, Victor said.
Victor has previously said he met Kelley during the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa. During the meeting, he said, Kelley dropped Petraeus' name.
But in a meeting later in his New York office, Victor said, he realized Kelley was an amateur after she asked for a finder's fee amounting to $80 million.
In his letter to Victor, Lowell asserted that the executive had defamed Kelley. Further, he said, it was Victor — not Kelley — who had brought up the topic of a fee.
"It has been impossible to overlook your attempt to get your 15 minutes of fame from the events that have been reported in the last few weeks," Lowell said in a Nov. 21 letter to Victor. "If you want to continue to seek publicity for yourself, that is one thing. However, if you do that by maligning a person, that is something else. . . . You do not have the right to defame our client."
On Monday, South Korea's national news agency reported that the country would revoke Kelley's post as honorary consul.
Lowell said Victor misrepresented the size of the fee Kelley sought and said it was Victor who was "trying to capitalize on her contacts and not the other way around."
Victor, president of Manhattan-based TransGas Development Systems, said Tuesday he stands by his statements.
"I don't understand what all the commotion is about," Victor said. "All I've done is tell the truth. I'm really befuddled."
He said Kelley's emails to him after their meetings reflect that she was happy with their discussions and pointed to no problem.
He maintained that Kelley asked for a 2 percent deal on a multibillion-dollar project and would have brought her an $80 million fee, if he had agreed.
Victor said Kelley was in over her head working as a deal broker for such a large project.
Still, documents obtained by the Times show he had contacted Kelley on Nov. 12 — the day after her name was publicly revealed in the scandal.
Victor said that while the deal he had talked to her about was dead, he was still interested in maintaining a business relationship with her. He said he thought she was a smart woman whom he admired for her moxie.
In another letter, dated Tuesday, Lowell warned U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill's office in Tampa that the Kelleys are investigating legal remedies for leaks they believe have been made by the FBI or other officials.
"The earliest and best example of the leaks would be the release to the media of the names of my clients," Lowell wrote, noting the leaks may violate the federal Privacy Act.
"You no doubt have seen the tremendous attention that the Kelleys have received in the media," the letter said. "All they did to receive this attention was to let law enforcement know that they had been the subjects of inappropriate and potentially threatening behavior by someone else."
A spokeswoman for O'Neill's office could not be reached.
In another letter also dated Tuesday to a Florida Bar entity called the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, Lowell complained that Cohen, a renowned Tampa lawyer, should not have made comments about Kelley at a news conference he called earlier this month.
Lowell said Cohen's firm had represented Jill and Scott Kelley, 46, in a dispute with a tenant. As their former attorney, Lowell said, Cohen's media comments raise questions about whether he violated attorney-client privilege.
Lowell quoted comments at that news conference by Cohen, including statements that Kelley was a name dropper. "She does what she thinks is necessary to be perceived as being important," Lowell quoted a story as saying.
"Mr. Cohen's conduct in organizing and conducting such an event with respect to a former client is bizarre, to say the least, and raises a number of professional responsibility questions," Lowell wrote.
Cohen said in an interview Tuesday that he stood by everything he said at the news conference, and said he had held it at the behest of media.
"I don't believe I did anything unethical," Cohen said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.