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Tampa's Korea-American community says they don't know Jill Kelley despite her consular status

TAMPA — Don't know her. Never heard of her.

Members of Tampa Bay's Korean-American community say they were unaware of socialite Jill Kelley, at least until the woman whose friendships with top generals at MacDill Air Force Base erupted into a sex scandal and the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.

Kelley was appointed an honorary consul in August by the South Korean government despite few apparent ties to that nation.

"Nobody knows who she is," said Kimi Springsteen, an Asian-American affairs liaison for Hillsborough County and a board member of the Korean Association of West Florida. "People in the community have been calling me asking, "Who is she?' "

Springsteen said she finds it impossible to believe that anyone with legitimate ties to her community would be an utter mystery to her.

South Korean diplomatic officials, meantime, said they are reviewing Kelley's status as an honorary consul and deciding whether it should be revoked.

"We are looking at it very closely," said Tae-jin Kim, a South Korean consul in Washington. "But no decision has been made as yet. We are looking at everything."

Kim said Kelley is one of 10 South Korean honorary consuls in the United States, and one of two in Florida.

Asked why Kelley was selected, Kim said, "She has some reputation in that Florida community. And she (wanted) to make a contribution to the Korean community."

The other honorary consul for South Korea in Florida is Miami attorney Burton A. Landy. Springsteen said Landy has been active in the Korean-American community and has even visited South Korea.

Landy told the Tampa Bay Times that he had once met Kelley. But he declined additional comment.

Honorary consuls are frequently appointed by nations with diplomatic ties to the United States. The honorary consuls must be approved by the U.S. State Department. They receive no pay and do not have full diplomatic immunity.

Often, the government that names someone an honorary consul will sometimes call on that person for help regarding minor issues.

They might be asked to speak to civic groups or to attend meetings with visiting South Korean dignitaries, according to people who have served in the position.

E. Harris Baum, an honorary consul for South Korea and a Philadelphia attorney, said the embassy once asked him to identify the body of a Korean-American who had committed suicide. Baum knew the man through his work as an honorary consul.

Springsteen said she and other members of Tampa Bay's Korean-American community feel insulted that someone like Kelley, apparently knowing few in the Korean community, would have been appointed an honorary consul.

"Somebody fouled up," Springsteen said. "Somebody is going to be fired. That's really embarrassing to the Korean foreign affairs office. It's almost comical."

Tampa's Korea-American community says they don't know Jill Kelley despite her consular status 11/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 7:31pm]
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