TAMPA — Energy executive Adam Victor said he ended his business relationship with socialite Jill Kelley in September after she quoted an exorbitant $80 million fee for helping him broker an overseas business deal.
That fee has been widely reported in coverage of the scandal that cost CIA director David Petraeus his job. Some saw it as proof that Kelley tried to cash in on her friendship with Petraeus, formed while the retired general led the U.S. Central Command.
But Victor was still reaching out to Kelley for help with South Korean officials even two months after he has said he concluded she could not help him with the deal, according to newly reviewed emails and voicemail messages provided by Kelley's attorney.
"Are you still in a position to move on Korea?" Victor wrote to Kelley in an email dated Nov. 12.
The aborted business deal involving Victor and Kelley took on renewed importance Tuesday with the release of letters written by Kelley's attorney, Abbe Lowell, that countered statements by some of Kelley's antagonists.
One of those letters warned Victor that he had defamed Kelley and accused him of providing reporters with inaccurate information. Victor denied doing so.
But it's hard to draw any definitive conclusions because neither Victor nor Kelley's attorney have released a full set of their email exchanges.
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 Petraeus. The revelation ended his career and brought scrutiny over his friendship with Jill and Dr. Scott Kelley, 46, who had hosted him and other military brass at parties at their Bayshore Boulevard mansion.
On Tuesday, Lowell also complained to U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill's office in Tampa of leaks in the case and asked for an investigation. O'Neill said Wednesday that his office would do so if it gets specific information showing the leak involved a government official in his jurisdiction.
But O'Neill, whose office has spoken about the case with the Justice Department's inspector general, said tracing a leak is extremely difficult.
"The problem with any leak investigation is, if 1,000 people have access to (leaked information) … it's going to be hard to prove" who's responsible, he said.
Lowell said he is researching a potential civil suit against the government because the leaks about his clients violated the federal Privacy Act.
Passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the act generally prohibits government officials from releasing records maintained by federal agencies about individuals without their consent, though there are many exceptions, including a broad exception for law enforcement investigations.
While the act does allow for civil suits, earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the only kind of damages someone can sue for are what the law calls "actual damages." The court interpreted those only as financial loss.
"Someone like Jill Kelley, you can imagine she would be saying, 'There's all sorts of harm to my reputation, humiliation, I have the press on my doorstep,' " said Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami. "That kind of thing is actually not going to get her anywhere because the Supreme Court has said it really has to be financial loss."
Kelley's attorney saved his harshest criticisms for Victor.
Victor has said he met Kelley during the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa. During the meeting, he said, Kelley dropped Petraeus' name and said he had helped her win appointment as an honorary consul for South Korea.
Victor, president of Manhattan-based TransGas Development Systems, wanted to develop a $4 billion coal-gasification plant in Pakistan with the help of a consortium of South Korean business interests. Kelley, he said, told him she had the contacts to help.
A few weeks after the convention, Victor said, Kelley met him at his offices in New York.
What happened after the meeting is much contested.
Victor said Kelley sent him emails saying she had contacts in South Korea that could help him. She quoted a 2 percent fee.
But Kelley's attorney said she broke off the talks with Victor.
On a $4 billion deal, a 2 percent fee amounted to $80 million. Victor said that request exposed Kelley as an amateur who couldn't help him, he said.
But Lowell said in his letter that Kelley wasn't seeking such a high fee, saying the 2 percent applied only to profits or sales, not the entire cost of the project.
And records provided by Lowell show Victor pursued Kelley's help even after Victor said he had ended the business relationship.
"Jill, I was just calling to see if you're still in a position to do stuff with the Koreans. If so, I'd like to come back and negotiate, you know, a market offer that works for you and works for me and see if we can make this happen," according to a recording dated Nov. 12.
Victor could not be reached for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, he acknowledged contacting Kelley in November, saying he held out hope she might still be able to help him.
"All I did was tell the truth," Victor said Tuesday. "I was quite annoyed, frankly, that I turned down other potential avenues to deal with the South Koreans in favor of using her."
South Korean officials have said they will no longer allow Kelley to be an honorary consul.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said department officials have asked the U.S. State Department to notify them when they get official word from South Korea.
The state will then send a letter asking Kelley to surrender several "honorary consul" license plates.
In other developments, the New York Times reported Wednesday that Pentagon investigators examining emails between Kelley and another of her friends, Marine Gen. John Allen, have narrowed their inquiry to 60 to 70 messages that "bear a fair amount of scrutiny."
Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, is the former acting and deputy commander at CentCom, located at MacDill Air Force Base.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]