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Jill Kelley asks for 'diplomatic protection' in calls to Tampa police

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 01:02 AM
TAMPA -

Jill Kelley so treasured her association with military leaders that the special Florida license plate on her silver Mercedes-Benz reads, "Honorary Consul 1JK."

When she called police about news crews camped out in front of her waterfront mansion, she described herself as an "honorary consul general" and asked for "diplomatic protection."

But now, after she touched off a scandal that has embroiled top military and intelligence leaders, the South Tampa wife, mother and socialite is no longer even allowed on MacDill Air Force Base.

"She did have base access but does not currently because of her involvement in an ongoing investigation," a military official told the Tribune.

Kelley did not return a call seeking comment.

Because of emails Kelly sent and received, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned last week after admitting an affair with his biographer and the Pentagon confirmed Monday that Marine Gen. John R. Allen is under investigation.

Also Tuesday, Mike Morell, acting director of the CIA, told key members of Congress he had assigned a CIA inspector general to investigate the circumstances leading to the resignation of Petraeus, the Army four-star general who once led U.S. Central Command in Tampa before heading off to take command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Attending the meeting was Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Indian Shores Republican and chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee. Because the meeting was classified, Young wouldn't discuss details.

Young did say he expects the scandal will take up a good chunk of the week on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, he said, Morell is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. And on Friday, a twice-postponed briefing is scheduled in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Kelley has not spoken with reporters this week about her relationships that are at the center of the scandal. But she made her status known to Tampa police when she summoned them four times in two days to get camera crews and reporters away from her property.

"I am an honorary consul general," Kelley said in one call Sunday to a police nonemergency number. "I have inviolability. They should not be on my property. I don't know if you want to get diplomatic, uh, protection involved as well. It's against the law to cross my property. It's inviolable."

Though she has the special license plate, it remained unclear Tuesday how she qualified for it.

Applicants must show proof they are members of the Honorary Consular Corps, which appears from the U.S. Department of State website to consist of representatives from foreign countries. Florida verifies that with the State Department, said Courtney Heidelberg, who is with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Florida has issued 107 such license plates.

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman with the State Department, said Kelley "does not work for State, has no affiliation with State."

His office referred all questions about Kelley to the Republic of Korea in an email received after hours.

Her special status provided further evidence of the access Kelley enjoyed to some of the nation's most powerful military leaders.

Her relationships with Petraeus, Allen and their wives arose from what other friends describe as Kelley's fascination with international affairs.

She risked taking it too far, in the view of one friend, Tampa developer Don Phillips.

Phillips said that he had advised Kelley and other friends of the generals assigned here to keep some professional distance for the sake of appearances.

"There is a childish innocence about Jill in some ways that borders on prejudicial naïveté," Phillips said.

He said he worried that her closeness to Petraeus could raise eyebrows. He considers Kelley an exceptionally outgoing, engaging person, which some may interpret as flirtatious.

"She clearly was excited about her friend David becoming director of the CIA. Clearly," he said.

When new officers arrive in Tampa, Phillips said, the Kelleys and other couples have taken it upon themselves to make them feel at home by hosting them for Gasparilla and other events.

Tampa needs people like that, Phillips said, so the military knows just how important its presence is to the community.

Phillips said he doesn't believe Kelley had an inappropriate relationship with either Petraeus or Allen. Rather, she is a loving family woman who Phillips has never even seen quarrel or bicker with her husband, Scott.

Aaron Fodiman, owner of Tampa Bay Magazine, has known the Kelleys for more than a decade and described them as the picture of marital bliss.

"To us, they are absolutely lovebirds," Fodiman said. "They are people you can relate to. They are charming. When we first heard all of this, we said, 'You've got to be crazy. It is unbelievable.'"

Jill Kelley enjoyed her association with the top brass, he said.

"She was thrilled to have as friends some of the most powerful people in the world," Fodiman said. "The truth is, these are really very nice people. You don't get to be an admiral or a general if you don't have a lot of social charms."

Over time, staff members at MacDill came to know Jill Kelley as a liaison between the military and the community. She knew how to get tickets to the theater, to sports events; she arranged welcoming parties and introduced new commanders to South Tampa society.

"When you realize the honor of that," Fodiman said, "you don't turn it down."

Friends contacted on Tuesday said they didn't know that despite the couple's aura of wealth, their Bayshore Boulevard mansion and a fondness for hosting lavish parties, the Kelleys had financial troubles.

Regions Bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against them in April 2010, claiming they failed to make a payment on the mansion. The bank demands repayment of $1.8 million in principal and interest on the mortgage. Records indicate the foreclosure is ongoing.

Meantime, a company that the Kelleys control, Kelley Land Holdings, defaulted on a $2.1 million loan from Central Bank. It was secured by a commercial building at Franklin and Madison streets in downtown Tampa, which the bank eventually took back.

And finally, credit card issuer FIA Card Services sued Jill Kelley for defaulting on more than $25,000 in credit card debt.

Several retired generals with Tampa connections who once ran military operations say community outreach is a big part of their jobs, but they caution that there is a line that must not be crossed.

"Maintaining good relationships with surrounding civilian community is an inherent function of the senior leadership," said Gene Deegan, a retired Marine Corps major general, now living in Carrollwood, who used to have commands in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and, later, Parris Island, S.C.

"No matter what the base, the leadership has an inherent responsibility for keeping the bridge open to the surrounding community."

Deegan said that if there is truth to reports of inappropriate emails between Kelley and Allen — a military leader Deegan holds in high regard — "I find that very strange."

"We have to watch what we do," said Chip Diehl, a retired Air Force brigadier general who served as commander of MacDill from 1999 until 2001. "You have to share time, not just focus on one couple."


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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