x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Jill Kelley loved hosting parties for military officers

Socialite whose complaint about harassing emails opened an FBI investigation has been sued, with her husband, at least eight times over financial matters.

The media gathers in front of Jill Kelley ‘s home in Tampa, Florida.
The media gathers in front of Jill Kelley ‘s home in Tampa, Florida.

TAMPA, UNITED STATES // Jill Kelley, the Lebanese-American woman whose complaint about harassing emails opened an FBI investigation ensnaring two four-star US generals, is known for hosting military officers at her waterfront home and once cooked alligator as a Food Network game-show contestant.

She and her husband, Scott, a cancer surgeon, also have been sued over financial matters at least eight times, with two of the cases involving property foreclosures.

Mrs Kelley, 37, is a mother of three young daughters who, upon moving to Tampa about a decade ago, joined several non-profit before finding her niche as a denizen of the city's social scene for officers at US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, said Don Phillips, a family friend.

"Jill is very involved and engaging," said Mr Phillips, a Tampa developer and Republican Party fund-raiser. "She's charming and attractive and loves to throw a good party."

Her party-giving led to her friendships with the former CIA director and army General David Petraeus and the marine General John Allen, whose emails with Mrs Kelley have stalled his nomination by President Barack Obama to become Nato's Supreme Allied Commander.

Since the scandal, Central Command revoked Kelley's standing in "Friends of MacDill", a group of civilians who can visit the base without supervision. Mrs Kelley had been in the group in 2010.

The investigation also showed flirtatious email exchanges between Gen Allen and Mrs Kelley, according to a US defence official. The emails don't necessarily indicate an adulterous relationship, which is considered a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official said.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Mrs Kelley moved in the mid-1970s with her family to north-east Philadelphia where they were the "oddballs" in a mostly Irish and German neighbourhood, her brother, David Khawam, said in an interview outside his New Jersey home.

Her family opened restaurants in the area, he said.

Raised in a conservative home by a father who was an accomplished pianist in his homeland, Mr Khawam said his sister wouldn't have an affair because "it wouldn't fly".

"We're religious, we're dedicated," he said. "She would be disowned."

Mr Phillips said Mrs Kelley "is very excited about the pageantry of the military. She takes great interest in it".

Her close ties to Mr Petraeus and Gen Allen were revealed after she complained to an acquaintance, an FBI agent, about anonymous emails she was getting that she said were threatening and harassing. The FBI discovered the sender was Paula Broadwell, Mr Petraeus's biographer, who was having an extramarital affair with the CIA director.

"Jill is very engaging and gregarious and can also be overwhelming," Phillips said. "I can see how she might make women feel edgy."

Mrs Kelley moved to Florida with her husband in 2003. The Kelleys and her husband released a statement last week saying they have been friends with Mr Petraeus and his family "for over five years".

Mrs Kelley's friendship with Petraeus and his wife, Holly, is reflected in court documents. In a 2012 letter, he supported Mrs Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, in a child custody battle, according to District of Columbia Superior Court records.

Mr Petraeus said in the letter that he and his wife got to know Ms Khawam, "through our friendship with Dr and Mrs Scott Kelley". Mr Petraeus said he and his wife hosted the Kelleys, her sister and the sister's young son "for Christmas dinner this past year".

Gen Allen, who was deputy commander of the Tampa-based US Central Command, also vouched for Kelley's sister in a letter, saying there were "multiple occasions" when they were both at "social functions".

Last year, the Kelleys lost a foreclosure case filed by Central Bank involving an office building, which was sold to satisfy a judgment of US$2.2 million (Dh8.1m), including attorneys' fees, according to court records.

Also in 2011, they lost a $271,000 foreclosure case filed by Regions Bank on their Tampa home. An indebtedness case filed by Chase Bank was settled last year, and the Kelleys are in litigation with Fia Card Services over a credit card.


* Bloomberg