The Florida socialite whose report of harassing emails from Paula Broadwell ultimately led to the resignation of CIA director Gen. David Petraeus forged close ties with top military and intelligence officials in Tampa, hosting lavish parties at her waterfront mansion and earning accolades as an "honorary ambassador" to the military and an honorary consul general for Korea.
But detractors say that Jill Kelley, 37, is a social climber whose lavish lifestyle is now threatened by millions of dollars in debt and possible foreclosure on her home, and who tried to exploit her connections, perhaps even enlisting Gen. Petraeus in her sister's bitter child custody fight.
Jill Kelley and her twin sister Natalie Khawam grew up in the Philadelphia area, daughters of a Lebanese immigrant couple who owned a local restaurant. Jill and Natalie would appear together on a 2003 episode of a Food Channel program called "Food Fight," in which they dressed in designer clothes while cooking alligator in a cook-off against two brothers.
After Kelley and her husband Scott, a cancer surgeon, moved to Tampa, Khawam came to live with them and their three children in their $1.5 million home on Bayshore Boulevard.
In Tampa, Kelley volunteered her time to support the military, planning and hosting charitable events for CENTCOM, the Defense Department's Central Command, which is based at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base and has responsibility for directing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kelley, her husband and her sister Natalie became friendly with major players, including both Gen. Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
"Jill is known as a gracious host, a vivacious individual," said Aaron Fodiman, editor and publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine.
Kelley's social efforts on behalf of the military earned her the unpaid title of "honorary ambassador" to Coalition Forces in Afghanistan, and she was also named honorary counsel for South Korea.
In a statement, Kelley and her husband Scott said they are close friends with the Petraeus family. The families have spent the holidays together several times over the years and celebrated Christmas together last year, according to Petraeus' daughter Anne's personal blog.
"Our friends from Tampa (the twins Jill and Natalie, plus Jill's husband Scott and their three little girls, as well as Natalie's 2-year-old son John) were in town and came over for an afternoon feast and presents at our place," she wrote in the blog.
"There was no question they were friends," said Fodiman, "and no reason why they wouldn't be friends." See the timeline of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair HERE.
This summer when Kelley received anonymous e-mails accusing her of flaunting a friendly relationship with military brass in Tampa, she called the FBI, which traced those e-mails back to the computer of Paula Broadwell, co-author of the Petraeus biography "All In." Investigators are said to have found emails in Broadwell's inbox that pointed to an intimate affair with Petraeus. Petraeus announced his resignation as CIA director on Friday.
After the media spotlight turned from Broadwell to Kelley, questions about Kelley's lifestyle and her ties to the military surfaced.