Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla., resident who poured her energies into throwing lavish parties for and hobnobbing with area military brass, is now linked to two of the nation's top commanders in a fast-moving scandal.
Kelley's exact connections to former Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, are not yet clear. But federal investigators have said Kelley, 37, triggered the FBI's discovery of Petraeus' extramarital affair. According to a senior U.S. defense official, she also exchanged hundreds of emails with Allen, who has now been ensnared in the FBI probe into the matter.
In recent years, Kelley and her husband, Scott, had appointed themselves ad-hoc social ambassadors for military personnel at nearby MacDill Air Force Base, just a stone's throw from the Kelleys' mansion on Bayshore Boulevard.
The parties were how Jill and Scott Kelley eventually became friends with Holly and David Petraeus. It is also how Kelley came to be in regular contact with Allen. Both generals served as the top officers at U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill.
The social galas seemed to spare no expense, guests said, and often featured copious buffets, valet parking, string quartets, as well as premium cigars and champagne.
While they were throwing glamorous parties, the Kelleys racked up substantial debt, prompting banks to initiate foreclosure proceedings on two properties and other creditors to sue them for tens of thousands in credit card debt, according to court records filed in Hillsborough County District Court. Guy Coburn, a lawyer who represented the Kelleys in the civil suits, said he had not been authorized by his clients to discuss the cases.
On Tuesday morning, reporters in Tampa were staking out the Kelleys's two-story brick mansion, where contractors were piling up tables and fold-out chairs from a weekend party and moving them onto a pickup truck.
Jill Kelley has not responded to requests for comment since her name surfaced as part of the controversy. On Sunday, however, a spokesman issued a statement on behalf of Kelley and her husband, saying: "We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years. We respect his and his family's privacy and want the same for us and our three children."
In an interview, Jill Kelley's brother said his sister had deep affection for Holly and Gen. Petraeus and that she never had anything but a platonic relationship with Gen. Petraeus.
"They were truly good friends for years," said David Khawam.
The Kelleys' party-giving had been a tradition for years, friends say, during and after Petraeus was commander of the U.S. Central Command from 2008 until 2010. The two couples developed a genuinely close bond. Kelley and her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, often went shopping and out to lunch with Holly Petraeus, friends said, particularly when her husband was on tour in Afghanistan.
In a 2011 custody battle involving Khawam and her estranged husband, David Petraeus submitted a letter on her behalf to the judge in the case.
Federal investigators have said Jill Kelley's closeness to Petraeus - captured in party pictures in local newspapers and online - may have explained why she received harassing emails from Paula Broadwell, who was involved in an extramarital affair with Petraeus.