Twin Florida socialites Jill Kelley and Natalie Khawam have emerged at the centre of the David Petraeus affair. Jon Swaine investigates their high-rolling lifestyles and access to America’s elite.
By Jon Swaine, Tampa
8:30PM GMT 13 Nov 2012
Twin Florida socialites who are at the centre of the David Petraeus affair gained intimate access to America’s military and political elite through their high-rolling lifestyles even as they quietly racked up millions of dollars in debts and credit card bills.
Jill Kelley, whose complaint over threatening emails prompted the FBI inquiry that has ensnared two top generals, is mired in lawsuits from a string of banks totalling $4 million (£2.5 million), court filings obtained by The Daily Telegraph in Florida show.
Meanwhile Mrs Kelley’s identical twin Natalie Khawam – who obtained testimonies to her good character from both Gen Petraeus and Gen John Allen during her own separate legal battle – declared herself bankrupt earlier this year with liabilities of $3.6 million, filings show.
The 37-year-old sisters have emerged as central players in the saga gripping Washington’s national security establishment since Mrs Kelley was named as the “second woman” allegedly harassed by jealous emails from Paula Broadwell, Gen Petraeus’s biographer and mistress.
Left to right: Jill Kelley’s twin sister Natalie, David Petraeus, Jill Kelley’s husband Scott, Jill Kelley, David Petraeus’s wife Holly.
They also have direct links to Florida’s highest political circles, The Daily Telegraph has learned. Miss Khawam once dated Charlie Crist, the state’s former governor, a Republican source said, while Pam Bondi, its Attorney General and a close ally of Mitt Romney, attended a function at Mrs Kelley’s home.
The sisters are also believed to have attended the farewell party for Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the former British ambassador to the US, in Washington last year. Peter King, a Republican congressman for New York who was at the event, told CNN yesterday that he had met Mrs Kelley at “one or two events at the British embassy”. An embassy spokesman declined to check, saying that it would take too much time.
Mrs Kelley, a mother-of-three and unpaid “social liaison” for the US military in Tampa, is said to have spared no expense at such parties to honour top brass stationed at nearby US Central Command. She was pictured at one event at her $1.2 million mansion in 2010 with Gen Petraeus, who arrived in a 28-man police motorcycle escort.
Guests at Mrs Kelley’s parties were treated to lavish buffets, drank champagne and puffed on cigars while being entertained by string quartets, according to insider accounts.
Yet she and her husband Scott, a surgeon, were soon being sued for $1.9 million by Central Bank after allegedly failing to keep up with mortgage payments on a house they bought after starting their own property company. A similar $1.8 million property lawsuit from Regions Bank followed soon after.
Later in the year, Regions Bank filed another claim against the Kelleys for $453,000, before Bank of America sued Mrs Kelley for $25,000 in allegedly unpaid credit card charges. All four cases remain open. The banks’ lawyers declined to comment. Mrs Kelley’s attorney did not return a request for comment.
The David Petraeus (left) scandal has now also engulfed General John Allen (right), who is fighting for his career.
“There are obviously financial issues,” said one associate of the Kelleys.
“Scott goes to work and works his ass off, and Jill takes care of the social stuff, and gets them into the society pages. They are nice people, and I feel sorry for them”.
The sisters grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughters of a couple who emigrated to the US from Lebanon during the 1970s. Their parents, who had two other children, owned a middle-eastern restaurant and a vehicle registration firm, records suggest.
“They are active in the G.O.P. social scene in Florida,” said a Republican source. “They are fun, friendly and beautiful people and political folks like them. I guess they’ve hit difficult times”. After being given a certificate at one event naming her an “honorary ambassador”, Mrs Kelley is said to have begun using the title without the “honorary” prefix.
Miss Khawam, a lawyer, called on their high-level contacts during a bitter custody battle over her four-year-old son in Washington earlier this year.
Both Gen Petraeus and Gen Allen sent letters to the court supporting her case to overturn a ruling denying her custody.
Informing the court in a September memo that he knew Miss Khawam well and had hosted her for dinner last Christmas, Gen Petraeus testified to having seen “a very loving relationship – a mother working hard to provide her son enjoyable, educational and developmental experiences”.
Two days later, Gen Allen – who is accused of exchanging thousands of emails with Miss Khawam’s sister, Jill – made his own unusual intervention, writing on headed notepaper and signing off with his title as a general in the US Marine Corps.
He said that she “clearly loves” her son, adding: “In light of Natalie’s maturity, integrity and steadfast commitment to raising her child, I humbly request your reconsideration of the existing mandated custody settlement.” Miss Khawam filed for bankruptcy in April this year, filings show. She owed more than $3 million spanning taxes, property debts, legal fees and personal loans to associates – including $800,000 from Mrs Kelley and her husband, who have taken her in at their Tampa mansion.
Separately she is being sued in Maryland for $100,000 in legal fees and in Florida by her former boss Barry Cohen, a prominent Tampa lawyer, who claims in his lawsuit that she “fraudulently omitted Rolex watches, sable mink furs and a diamond ring” from her bankruptcy filing, which she denies.
Mr Cohen’s action came in response to a lawsuit against him from Miss Khawam, who accused him of breach of contract and failing to take action to a complaint of sexual harassment. Mr Cohen denies the allegations.