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Despite Her Lavish Life, Jill Kelley Has Mounting Debt

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, the ongoing scandal that brought down General David Petraeus and has the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, under investigation. We're going to focus on the woman at the center of the scandal, not Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer and mistress, but Jill Kelley. It was Kelley, a Tampa socialite, who asked an FBI friend to look into harassing emails she'd been getting.

It turned out the sender was Paula Broadwell. And Kelley herself appears to have exchanged hundreds of emails with General Allen. About what, we don't yet know. Carol Leonnig is an investigative reporter for The Washington Post and she's been looking into Kelley's background. Leonnig says Kelley considered herself the unpaid social liaison for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home to U.S. Central Command.

CAROL LEONIG: She basically gave herself this title. And it was because of years of she and her husband, Scott - a surgeon in the Tampa area - hosting very lovely and indulgent parties for the military in Tampa. That's how she met General Allen. It's also how she met General Petraeus. And, certainly, the military appear to really enjoy her attention and her generosity.

BLOCK: Enjoyed it so much apparently that CENTCOM named Jill Kelley and honorary ambassador last year.

LEONIG: Yes, it seems as though that was also sought by her but, yes, they definitely were happy for the attention she was giving. Remember, you know, if you're in the military - even if you are a high ranking officer - a caviar buffet, a string quartet, valet parking, and open bar parties every weekend are not the norm. And that is what Jill and Scott Kelley were providing.

BLOCK: There's also, though, her apparent role as something called Honorary Consul of South Korea. She has a vanity plate on her Mercedes that says Honorary Consul.

LEONIG: She does, indeed, have those plates on her Mercedes, Honorary Consul 1JK. And Korea has confirmed that they gave her that role.

BLOCK: And this was a role that Jill Kelley invoked when she called local authorities. She was complaining about reporters and cameramen who were on her property. Let's take a listen.

JILL KELLEY: 'Cause I'm in Honorary Consul General, so I have inviolability. So they should not be able to cross my property. I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved, as well.

BLOCK: Diplomatic protection, she's asking about there. Any role for them?

LEONIG: I can't imagine how they could be providing her with protection.

BLOCK: It appears clear that Jill Kelley and her husband, Dr. Scott Kelley, live a very lavish life in Tampa. It's also a family that apparently has racked up a lot of debt.

LEONIG: Yes. You know, it's fascinating. While the cars and cavalcades were driving up the horseshoe drive of their home on Bayshore Boulevard, behind the scenes the court files in Tampa show that many creditors were seeking repayment from Scott and Jill on other real estate holdings that they had. And that these are not small debts. There was one suit over a credit card debt that exceeds - I think its $100,000 over several months time.

What's unclear is the current status of those cases and whether or not some of the debts have been repaid. But there were a lot of racked up bills and an effort by various lawyers to get their clients repaid by the Kelleys.

BLOCK: There's another wrinkle here, Carol. And that's that Jill Kelley and her husband, who is a prominent cancer surgeon, created a cancer charity in 2005. It was supposed to conduct research and grant wishes to terminally ill adult cancer patients. What happened?

LEONIG: You know, we reviewed the 990s, the tax forms for this foundation, which we found interesting. Our review is not complete but the expenses that we saw were overwhelmingly for fairly lavish catering and food expenses, as well as travel bills. It is not clear how the mission was served by some of these expenses. But I caution that we haven't finished our review of that.

BLOCK: The cancer charity itself, it dissolved. It was bankrupt within two years.

LEONIG: Yes. And what's curious is what was its purpose. Why was it started? And why did it have so much trouble appearing to spend money on its mission?

BLOCK: Carol Leonig is an investigative reporter with The Washington Post. Carol, thanks so much.

LEONIG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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