Petraeus friend Jill Kelley found place hosting military parties

David Petraeus posed for a photo at the Gasparilla parade with Dr. Scott Kelley at the Kelleys’ home. Petraeus’ wife, Holly, also attended.
David Petraeus posed for a photo at the Gasparilla parade with Dr. Scott Kelley at the Kelleys’ home. Petraeus’ wife, Holly, also attended.
Published Nov. 14, 2012

TAMPA — When Dr. Scott T. Kelley moved from the Northeast to become one of Moffitt Cancer Center's most distinct specialists, his wife, Jill, threw herself into the South Tampa social scene.

She volunteered for committees to organize galas and fashion shows benefiting the American Red Cross and the Tampa Museum of Art. But she didn't seem to find her calling in those circles.

Then she focused her efforts on helping the military.

Just miles from her Bayshore Boulevard home, representatives from scores of nations that make up the military coalition united to fight terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks were stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

Before long, the Kelley mansion became the place to be seen for coalition officers. Gen. David Petraeus, leader of U.S. Central Command at MacDill, marked his first celebration of the Gasparilla pirate parade on the Kelleys' lawn.

"Jill was such an awesome client," said Linda Baldwin, the owner of Events by Amore, which catered that party. "Did so much for the military, fabulous mother and amazing wife; can't say enough nice things about her. She never spared anything for the military. It was all about them."

Just three months after they posed with David and Holly Petraeus, strands of Gasparilla beads hanging from their necks, the Kelleys were hit with a foreclosure lawsuit.

The suit, brought by Central Bank against the Kelleys and Kelly Land Holdings, centered on a three-story office building at 300 E Madison St. in downtown Tampa. Court records show they owed the bank nearly $2.2 million, including attorney fees.

In 2011, a judge ordered the property to be put up for sale.

In the decade since the Kelleys arrived from Pennsylvania, it proved one of several examples of court cases seeking payment of real estate and credit card debts intermingling with catered parties and A-list guests as the couple sought to establish themselves in Tampa.

And now the Kelleys have a national scandal to contend with — one that is quickly growing more and more curious.

• • •

Over the summer, Jill Kelley, 37, started getting anonymous emails. The half dozen or so messages told her to stop behavior that was being interpreted as too friendly toward Petraeus — although they did not use his name.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, said the emails indicated Petraeus' secret paramour Paula Broadwell felt jealous. Kelley contacted a friend in the local FBI office, who took her concerns to the bureau, the Associated Press reported.

A spokesman for the Tampa FBI office did not return phone or email messages Monday.

The agent and friend, whose name has not been made public, was subsequently barred from the investigation because of superiors' concerns that he had become obsessed with the case, the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday, citing anonymous sources.

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The newspaper reported there were allegations that the agent had once sent shirtless pictures of himself to Jill Kelley. The paper reported the agent is now under internal affairs review.

• • •

Dr. Kelley was a get for Moffitt.

He graduated from Dartmouth College and Columbia University. He is one of the world's few doctors who specialize in a particular type of minimally invasive surgery to cure cancer of the esophagus and has been featured on the cover of the center's magazine.

Friends say he is Jill Kelley's favorite topic of conversation — she even sometimes refers to him as "Dr. Kelley."

Since the Kelleys have been in Tampa, records show, one or both have been subjects of lawsuits nine times — including an $11,000 judgment against them that originated in Pennsylvania.

Ongoing cases, the court records show, include an indebtedness case from Chase Bank; a foreclosure case from Regions Bank; and a credit card case from FIA Card Services.

Not long after the couple arrived in Tampa, Jill Kelley and her identical twin sister, Natalie Khawam, appeared for a taping of the Food Network's reality show, Food Fight.

The segment featured sibling rivalry, with the twins cooking off against two brothers.

A food show, though, was not out of the realm for the sisters.

Growing up in Philadelphia, the sisters were among four children of a couple who had immigrated from Jounieh, Lebanon, in the mid 1970s. The family owned a Middle Eastern restaurant in Philadelphia called Sahara.

The year after the sisters appeared for the show's taping, the Kelleys moved in the Bayshore Boulevard home they had bought for about $1.5 million, property records show.

The colonial-style home of nearly 5,000 square feet has white columns on the front facade. A portrait painting of the Kelleys hangs in the living room.

Dr. Kelley has since left Moffitt. On June 1, 2008, he joined the Watson Clinic in Lakeland.

Jill Kelley established a name for herself as an extravagant hostess with a military guest list. She functions as an unpaid social liaison for the Air Force base in South Tampa.

All or nearly all of her parties include members of the military coalition. During Gasparilla earlier this year, the head of the coalition appeared at the couple's heavily guarded home.

Civilian guests have included David Laxer, owner of Bern's Steakhouse, Ron Vaughn, president of the University of Tampa, Pam Bondi, the state attorney general, and Dick Greco, a former Tampa mayor.

As news of her role in the Petraeus scandal broke Sunday, Jill Kelley was throwing a birthday party for one of her daughters. A media crush waited at the curb. A sole local TV crew remained Monday morning.

By then, the Kelleys had turned to national experts for help.

They hired Abbe Lowell, a Washington lawyer who has represented clients such as former presidential candidate John Edwards and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And the couple are employing crisis PR person Judy Smith, who has represented big names like Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick and Kobe Bryant.

Times staff writers Amy Scherzer, Richard Danielson and Elizabeth Behrman and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer was also used.