11.13.12

Florida Twins at the Center of Petraeusgate Scandal

Jill Kelley and Natalie Khawam have emerged as key players in the saga that ensnared two top American generals.

By Jon Swaine

Twin Florida socialites who are at the center 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, Kelley’s identical twin, Natalie Khawam—who obtained testimonies to her good character from both General Petraeus and General 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 Kelley was named as the “second woman” allegedly harassed by jealous emails from Paula Broadwell, General Petraeus’s biographer and mistress.

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 Kelley’s home.

The sisters are also believed to have attended the farewell party for Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the former British ambassador to the U.S., in Washington last year. Peter King, a Republican congressman for New York who was at the event, told CNN yesterday that he had met Kelley at “one or two events at the British embassy.” An embassy spokesman declined to check, saying that it would take too much time.

Kelley, a mother of three and an unpaid “social liaison” for the U.S. military in Tampa, is said to have spared no expense at such parties to honor top brass stationed at nearby U.S. Central Command. She was pictured at one event at her $1.2 million mansion in 2010 with General Petraeus, who arrived in a 28-man police motorcycle escort.

Guests at 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.

Guests at Kelley’s parties were treated to lavish buffets, drank champagne, and puffed on cigars while being entertained by string quartets.

Later in the year, Regions Bank filed another claim against the Kelleys for $453,000, before Bank of America sued Kelley for $25,000 in allegedly unpaid credit card charges. All four cases remain open. The banks’ lawyers declined to comment. Kelley’s attorney did not return a request for comment.

“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 U.S. 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,” Kelley is said to have begun using the title without the “honorary” prefix.

Khawam, a lawyer, called on their high-level contacts during a bitter custody battle over her 4-year-old son in Washington earlier this year.

Both General Petraeus and General 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 Khawam well and had hosted her for dinner last Christmas, General 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, General Allen—who is accused of exchanging thousands of emails with Khawam's sister, Jill—made his own unusual intervention, writing on headed notepaper and signing off with his title as a general in the U.S. 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." 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 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.

Cohen’s action came in response to a lawsuit against him from Khawam, who accused him of breach of contract and failing to take action to a complaint of sexual harassment. Cohen denies the allegations.