News Column

Who Is the Real Jill Kelley?

November 16, 2012

Guy Adams

She first hit the news as the apparently innocent victim of abusive emails from the lover of David Petraeus. But the more we've found out about the other, other woman, the greater the mystery.

On day one, she wore a bright yellow dress with diamond earrings and a stratospherically expensive handbag. On day two, a pink designer outfit complete with killer heels. All week long, her hair, nails and make-up have been so consistently immaculate, and her catwalk strut so polished, that grizzled paparazzi at the bottom of her driveway are calling her the "Tampa Kardashian".

Pretty much every loose end to the freewheeling scandal that has rocked the White House, claimed the career of CIA director David Petraeus, and may yet take down General John Allen, the US Commander in Afghanistan, now leads to the vast red brick mansion, a short drive from Florida's MacDill Air Force Base, that the 37-year-old Jill Kelley calls home.

The expansive lawn is where Mr Petraeus and his wife, Holly, draped "party beads" around their necks before posing for a now- notorious photograph with Ms Kelley and her husband, Scott. The office is where Ms Kelley read emails that spawned the FBI investigation which exposed Petraeus's extra-marital fling. The living room, below a vast oil painting of herself, is where Ms Kelley stood to dial 911 when reporters began knocking on her door on Sunday. "I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property," she told the operator.

Since that bizarre phone call, Ms Kelley has become the key player in a saga which is sending ripples through the military establishment. Her social relationship with several senior army and intelligence figures is now under the spotlight. And what we learn about her public and private lives may have far-reaching implications for America's national security.

To all outward appearances, Ms Kelley is the wife of a successful Tampa surgeon. She moved to the city roughly a decade ago and has since become one of its most energetic socialites. A fixture on the local party scene, and occasional reality TV star, she became an unofficial "social liaison" for top brass at MacDill, where the military oversees its operations in Afghanistan.

When she isn't bringing up her three children, Ms Kelley, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, devotes her life to raising money for charity and brightening up the cocktail circuit. She is also South Korea's "honorary consul" to Tampa, a ceremonial role which, contrary to the claim she made to the emergency services, does not give her any diplomatic status.

The editor of society magazine Tampa Bay says that lavish parties thrown at Ms Kelley's home, on Bayshore Boulevard, the city's smartest street, has made her a fixture in his pages. One army officer told the Washington Post that she was famed locally as a "rich socialite who likes to hang around with four-star generals".

Yet despite the outward appearance of wealth, Ms Kelley and her husband appear to be millions of dollars in debt. Moreover, her relationship with several senior men in uniform is now at the centre of an FBI investigation.

Trouble began in May when Ms Kelley and several of her contacts began receiving emails from someone writing under the pseudonym "Kelleypatrol". One sent to John Allen warned that she was "trouble". The messages sent to her were more threatening, and reportedly contained such phrases as: "I know what you did" and "Keep off my man!"

Ms Kelley flagged them with Frederick Humphries, an FBI agent she had met in 2011. He passed them on to the Bureau's cybercrime unit. Concerned that someone had inside information about the movements of both Mr Petraeus and General Allen, they launched a full investigation.

It was this inquiry which uncovered the fact that the threatening emails came from Paula Broadwell, the biographer of Mr Petraeus, and then revealed that she was his lover. It also turned up some 20- 30,000 pages of what the FBI called "potentially inappropriate" email messages that Ms Kelley had exchanged with General Allen.

Some sources have called those messages "simply flirtatious". Others believe they are more serious. Fox News cited an unnamed official alleging some of General Allen's emails to Ms Kelley were comparable to "phone sex". Elsewhere on her hard drive was a shirtless photograph of Mr Humphries, the FBI agent.

Reporters have also begun digging into Ms Kelley's chaotic finances. She and her husband appear to be struggling to pay the mortgage on their house, bought for $1.5m in 2004 when they moved to Tampa from Pennsylvania. The lavish parties they threw seem to have been financed by credit.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the couple have been sued for failing to make payments on a $250,000 bank loan, and defaulting on credit card bills of $75,000. Chase Bank has gone after them for $25,000. A property company they established to purchase a $2.1m office building went bankrupt. A medical charity they founded collapsed, after spending more than $70,000 on entertaining and travel.

Meanwhile Ms Kelley's twin sister, Natalie, who lives with the couple - and is an ex-girlfriend of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist - has millions of dollars of her own debts. She is at the centre of a messy divorce that, according to recent court papers, forced her to sell her $15,000 fur coat and $25,000 Rolex watch to live.

Yet Ms Kelley appears to be relishing the spotlight. Dressed to the nines, she has kept the curtains of her home open, allowing assembled snappers to steal almost daily photographs and enjoyed several outings in her Mercedes, with its personalised number plate reading "honorary consul".

She has also announced the appointment of a Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and a "crisis management" PR person, Judy Smith. Mr Lowell previously represented disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ms Smith's most famous former client is Monica Lewinsky. Given the questions that continue to be asked about the mysterious Ms Kelley, they seem likely to have their work cut out.

Source: (C) 2012 The Independent - London. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters