The Tampa, Florida, military base that has gained notoriety for its connection to General David Petraeus’ sex scandal has been compared to Wisteria Lane from the show Desperate Housewives where out-of-control parties with top brass are a nightly occurrence, and where social climbing is a favorite pastime.
Those visiting MacDill Air Force Base for the first time will likely be surprised to see the sprawling bay front homes with covered porches, the upscale gym, golf course, boat rentals and other trappings of the good life that bear little resemblance to nearly any other military outpost.
“It’s the nicest base I’ve ever seen,” a private contractor with base access told The Daily Beast.
“It blew me away, as far as what the taxpayers pay for.”
People familiar with the culture of MacDill say they are not surprised by the recent revelations that David Petraeus had an affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, which was made public after Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite with close ties to the base, set off an FBI investigation into the CIA director’s mistress.
Jill Kelley, described as a social climber and fierce self-promoter who was obsessed with powerful men, allegedly exchanged flirtatious emails with another general, John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
The sexual intrigue and heady mix of power and wealth appear to be mainstays on the military base known in Tampa as Wisteria Lane, referring to the infamous street where the philandering characters of Desperate Housewives reside.
“It’s well-known in social circles that all the big wigs do a lot of partying,” said Jack Belich, a private investigator in nearby St. Petersburg told the Daily Beast.
“That’s just part of the way they operate over there, and Tampa has always had these social gadflies and liaisons.”
Jill Kelley was well-connected with people on the base, among them a White House attorney who gave her and her family access to the presidential residence on three separate occasions.
Tampa Bay Magazine Editor Aaron Fodiman described Jill Kelley as “charming, lovely, and vivacious” hostess who would frequently throw parties for top military officials at her lavish $1.3 million home on Bayshore Boulevard.
Aaron Fodiman pointed out, however, that Jill Kelley was just one of “hundreds” of people in the affluent community eager to entertain military heroes who have been enjoying a superstar status in Tampa.
Jill Kelley was one of about 800 members of Friends of MacDill who are allowed to access the base unescorted in the daytime hours.
Tim Sweeney, a fellow member of the group, said that its purpose is to involve the community in the base’s daily life, and most of those who participate are driven by noble motives, not by a desire to get rich or make a name for oneself.
That said, Tim Sweeney conceded that the top military brass in Tampa are the people that Jill Kelley and her ilk would have wanted to rub shoulders with.
“MacDill folks are the closest thing Tampa comes to having real celebrities. The Kelley’s are clearly the exception to the rule,” Tim Sweeney said.
“I just think it was a way for them to become socially prominent in the community.”
Jill Kelley has been tied to the scandal that prompted the resignation of retired General David Petraeus as CIA director.
David Petraeus admitted having an affair with his married biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Federal officials say Paula Broadwell sent emails to Jill Kelley, perceiving her as a romantic rival. That FBI investigation uncovered emails between Jill Kelley and Gen. John Allen during his time as head of Central Command in Tampa.