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Scandal Shines Light On Tampa Social Scene


As we puzzle our way through stories dealing with the rise and fall of General David Petraeus, and possible concerns about the president's choice to command NATO - General John Allen; we're hearing about lavish social events given not by military people, but by people described as socialites- in Tampa, Florida. That's the community around MacDill Air Force Base, which is also the location of U.S. Central Command.

Ben Montgomery, who's a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, joins us from Tampa. Ben, what is going on, in your fair city, between the town and the military brass?

BEN MONTGOMERY: Well, it seems to center around Scott and Jill Kelley, who have found themselves at the center of this scandal because of some emails allegedly sent by Paula Broadwell, in a threatening manner, to Ms. Kelley.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Jill Kelley; her husband, Scott; and also her sister, Natalie; all appear to be close friends of the Petraeus family - and friends, as well, with General Allen. One of the things that you reported, about these folks, is that for all of their lavish hospitality, they don't appear to have very much money. In fact, they appear to be in debt.

MONTGOMERY: That's correct. In fact, court documents suggest that Scott and Jill Kelley have not made a payment on the home, which they bought for $1.5 million, since 2009. Ms. Khawam has filed for bankruptcy. And she claims...

WERTHEIMER: That's Natalie Khawam - is Jill Kelley's twin sister.

MONTGOMERY: That's correct. Both women, actually - the twin sisters - are heavily in debt; and they've taken loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars, from friends of theirs.

WERTHEIMER: And all of this is kind of in aid of maintaining some kind of a lifestyle, which - maybe, tangentially, includes all these generals.

MONTGOMERY: That's certainly how it seems. General Allen, and Mr. Petraeus, both went to bat for Miss Khawam in a custody case. Both men wrote the court a letter suggesting that she was fit to parent her 4-year-old child. The court differed with their view of Miss Khawam; and painted her as someone who had no moral compass, who would continue to engage in fraudulent transactions and devious deeds.

WERTHEIMER: As I understand it, they did not grant her custody of her child.

MONTGOMERY: Yes, ma'am. That's correct.

WERTHEIMER: Now, haven't the top people in the town always entertained the brass from Central Command and presumably, been invited out to the base as well?

MONTGOMERY: Well, there's been some of that but actually, it is sort of a departure. The base has, in the past few years, become more open to the general public. Now, Tampa's always been a place that's thrown big parties. Going back decades, we've held our annual Gasparilla parade, which is a fictional pirate invasion of the city. It's like the Mardi Gras of Florida. Now, the Kelley family - their mansion sits right along the parade route. The Kelleys participated in that, and held a number of parties there - at their house - which the military were invited to.

WERTHEIMER: So what does Tampa think about all this? I mean, are you getting much pushback to the stories that you're writing for the paper?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, I'm hearing a lot about it. And it is the talk of the town. Folks are very curious about these two women. Even though there's evidence to suggest they were really trying to make a name for themselves, they were still relative newcomers. So that may have something to do with all of this.

WERTHEIMER: Ben Montgomery, thank you.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Montgomery writes for the Tampa Bay Times. And we read all about it at their website, TampaBay.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.