Petraeus Scandal: Jill Kelley And The Tampa Society Set

She Brought The House Down

This Is A Story Of Cliffhangers

Emma Brockes Delves Into The Tampa Social Swirl ( Orchestrated by Social Climber Jill Kelly) That Sucked In And Spat Out A Celebrated Local Socialite, The CIA Boss, A Four-Star General And An FBI Snoop   —  This is the tangible effect of the David Petraeus scandal on society in Tampa, a balmy resort city in western Florida. Tampa has become the focus of the affair because it is home to Jill Kelley, the socialite whose circle encompassed not only the Petraeuses, but General John Allen, Petraeus's successor in Afghanistan, an FBI agent identified as Frederick Humphries II, and a community now scrambling to distance itself from the story.

Tampa social life also provided what all parties must now consider a regrettable photo – of Holly and David Petraeus standing with the Kelleys at a party at their house, bedecked in beads, the general looking, out of uniform, disconcertingly stoop-shouldered and unmartial. This image has come to symbolise the poor judgment that would bring down Petraeus, forced to resign when news emerged of his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell (below).

For the hosts, the party must have represented the pinnacle of a campaign to establish themselves at the heart of the social swirl that centres on the MacDill air force base in Tampa, a milieu of wealthy business people, aspiring politicians, four-star generals and anyone with the chutzpah – and credit, until it ran out – to put on a good show. Even when it fell apart, it would rival even Tom Wolfe's powers of manic exaggeration.

In the streets around the Kelley house, the trees hang with Spanish moss, the elegant properties protected with preservation orders. The Kelleys moved to the Hyde Park North neighborhood 10 years ago from the north-east US when Scott Kelley got a job at a cancer clinic in Tampa. 

Their house was empty when I visited, a single Mercedes in the drive, although Jill Kelley, 37, was seen at an upper window the previous day, looking down at the camera crews like a better dressed version of the Woman in Black. She promptly called 911, describing herself, in a gift to news teams, as "an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability  … I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well.

Honorary Consul  —  Kelly is an honorary consul general, appointed, bafflingly, by the South Koreans, who are now busily reviewing the honorific.  Other choice details include the fact she has a problematic twin sister; she is married to Scott Kelley, a doctor; and they bought their home for $1.5m in 2004.   As well as three children, they have nine open lawsuits, brought by various banks and credit card companies trying to recover their assets.

They throw parties which generals from the air base attend, some of whom lose their heads and enter into email correspondence with Kelley that would sit better in a story about teenage sexting. For her part, Broadwell appears to have been jealous of Kelley's social relationship with Petraeus. Broadwell sent anonymous emails to Kelley demanding that she back off; Kelley went to her friend, the FBI agent, setting off the investigation that brought Petraeus down. None of which answers the broader question: who on Earth are these people and what is exactly their deal?

The neighbours aren't saying. "Do you live here, ma'am?" asks a photographer as I approach the house, giving me his best head-boy smile before turning away in disgust; he has just squandered A-grade civility on a journalist.

There is a clue in the local press. Shortly after arriving in Florida, the Kelleys were pictured in Tampa Bay Magazine, a monthly glossy with a Tatler-style gossip column, standing chummily with their new neighbours.

"The Tampa social scene is like [Washington] DC," says Aaron Fodiman, editor of the Tampa Bay Magazine. "People develop affinities for different groups. There are those in Tampa who become friendly with, for example, visiting conductors who come to the orchestras here. There are the politicians. There are different niches of celebrity, influence and power. It's just the way the world works."

TOP BRASS  —  JILL KELLY — COHORTS —   Jill Kelley, the woman whose actions precipitated a scandal that ended up costing CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus his job and distinguished reputation, said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Juju Chang that she thought she was in danger after getting harassing emails from an anonymous sender.

Kelley, 40, reported the harassing behavior, spurring an FBI investigation, which traced those emails to the computer of Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ biographer. The investigators uncovered evidence that Petraeus and Broadwell were having an affair, and Petraeus ultimately resigned.

THE WHOLE TOP END WAS SHAKEN  —  Arguably the most glamorous set in Tampa is top brass at MacDill, particularly after 9/11, when the community felt proud to host US central command. For gravitas, for sheer national importance, who wouldn't want the man who ran the war in Afghanistan in their social circle? A friendship was born between Kelley and Petraeus, as were friendships between Kelley and Allen; and Kelley and the rogue FBI agent whose snooping into Petraeus' emails brought the whole circuit crashing down.

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That party of the Kelleys has come to encapsulate the scene, the Petraeus's arriving with a 28-cop motorcycle escort, heavily flanked by security who, according to reports at the time and in contention for best supporting detail of the entire saga, were required at some point to Taser another guest.

Fodiman, at the party in his role as chronicler of the social scene, is inclined to defend the Kelleys from accusations of vulgarity. "It's one day," he says. "It's like Mardi Gras. It's an anomaly."

The question still remains: how did Kelley, operating on fewer resourcesthan her millionaire rivals and with no particular social capital (she grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who ran a Middle Eastern restaurant) attract the best guests and so decisively keep them?  Not only keep them but, in the case of both Petraeus and Allen, get them, for example, to lend their names as character witnesses in her twin sister's custody case, a woman described by the judge as having offered "misrepresentations about virtually everything"?

At the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, there are theories, most of them about the voodoo art of self-promotion. "People here live good lives but don't need to be advertising it on a regular basis."

"These types of things are all fuelled by alcohol," says Laurie Hicks, the wife of a retired wing commander living in Tampa and veteran of the circuit, who characterises Jill Kelley as "silicone implants, silicone attitude", and Paula Broadwell as "a foolish twit". She says loftily: "A more usual military-civilian liaison person would be, say, the governor of Massachusetts. Not the wife of a surgeon."

It's not complicated, says Fodiman, who can't see what the fuss is about. "She is charming, lovely, a fun person at the party. We're told not to judge a book by it's cover, but you know: it's a very nice cover.

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Lies — Lawsuits  —  Liaisons  —  Describing the moment when Petraeus told her who her stalker was, Kelley said: "I saw him break down, and he immediately looked at me in the eyes and said, 'It's Paula Broadwell.'"

In her first ever broadcast interview since the scandal erupted, Kelley talked about receiving the threatening emails. Asked whether she thought she was in danger, she replied: “Oh, absolutely.”  The emails in question “did not go to us at first,” Kelley said. “They initially went to the generals and General Petraeus, or Director Petraeus and another ambassador and then they came to my husband on my birthday.”

Kelley writes about the experiences in the self-published memoir, “Collateral Damage: Petraeus, Power, Politics and the Abuse of Privacy (The Untold Story)." Also involved in the scandal was Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who ultimately retired from his position.

In the book, Kelley explains how she got access to two of the nation's top military officers and denies allegations of an affair.  "I was very close with their wives," she told Chang. "They were my best friends."

Kelley, who told Chang she "never had an affair with anybody in my life," also dismissed claims that she inappropriately touched Petraeus at an Easter dinner in 2012.    "It never happened," Kelley said. "Sadly nothing was the same after that and that's when the stalking started to happen."

Last year, Petraeus -- a four-star general who had served nearly four decade in the U.S. Army -- was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine after he admitted leaking classified information to Broadwell.

"I actually felt sorry for David,  " Kelley said. "In his defense, he was in a difficult situation where he had a very unhappy ex-girlfriend and the most amazing job in the world, and friends who were now being stalked."

Kelley told Chang she hopes Broadwell -- who was never charged with stalking or any other crime in the case -- is "in a better place today.”  "I really have nothing to say to her," Kelley said. "I wish she never sent those emails."

Kelley recently dropped a long-standing lawsuit filed against the federal government. She told Chang she is speaking out now about her experience because the right to privacy is something she is passionate about.