TAMPA – A former director working with a support organization for USF Health pleaded guilty to mail fraud in federal court for stealing nearly $ 13 million from the university’s medical system and spending most of it on an adult website.
Ralph Puglisi, who worked for the University Medical Services Association, faces up to 20 years in prison and has agreed to fully repay the $ 12.8 million he stole, according to the plea deal reached by prosecutors . A follow-up investigation, however, revealed that he may have stolen more than $ 15 million.
A copy of the indictment was not available on the Federal Judicial System’s website, but according to a lengthy statement released by USF, Puglisi was director of the UMSA’s finance and accounting department when ‘he embezzled $ 12.8 million between 2014 and 2020 by using credit cards and then hiding the charges in USMA’s financial records.
A follow-up survey on behalf of USF found that $ 11.5 million went to an adult website where men talk to women via text and video. The site, MyGirlFund, features photos of scantily clad women and bills itself as a place to chat with “sexy girls you won’t find anywhere else.”
Despite internal and external audits, university officials in the statement say “the thefts remained hidden until senior management at USF Health questioned growing accounts receivable balances and began. to be investigated “.
Puglisi was put on administrative leave on December 1, 2020 when the allegations arose and was fired three days later. His direct superior and the internal auditor were also dismissed. Neither person has been identified.
UMSA is a direct university support organization that oversees the administrative and financial management of the university’s medical practice, according to the press release issued by USF. The university’s purchasing office said the direct support organizations had “the authority to incur expenses for or for the benefit of the University of South Florida in accordance with USF regulations.”
The stolen money was patient care income and did not include state, federal, grants or donations money, according to the university. “USF is the victim of a serious crime committed by a person who held a position of trust,” the statement said.
After the theft was discovered, USF employed “third-party examiners” to investigate, the statement added.
One of those reviews was a confidential investigation by law firm Greenberg Traurig, which was hired in December 2020. According to the investigation, Puglisi “may have embezzled about $ 15 million”, not the $ 12.8 million. of dollars that the federal authorities charged him and the amount the university publicly declared.
The Greenberg Traurig report dated April 9 is labeled “privileged and confidential” but was included in a bundle of documents released by the USF with the statement.
According to the report, Puglisi billed around $ 11.5 million – $ 8.9 million on one Visa card and $ 2.5 million on another – on MyGirlFund.com.
The investigation found that “at least one associate or family member was directly involved with Puglisi in the program with the adult content provider. The family member is apparently engaged to Puglisi’s stepson and is most likely one of the women employed by the adult content provider.
The report states that a forensic investigation into Puglisi’s desktop computer found an Excel spreadsheet “prepared by this family member that details the distribution of the adult content provider’s money to Puglisi and to the family member “. The report states that an entry on the spreadsheet shows that $ 743,968 was “cashed” from MyGirlFund and split 60/40 between Puglisi and the family member.
Also on the computer were photos of an “adult content provider” by the name of YourGirl94 “who appears to be the family member,” the report said.
The remaining $ 3 million, according to the report, went to entertainment, family members, home renovations, an automobile and personal expenses.
This includes $ 648,000 to an LLC owned by Puglisi and his wife, who “bought the primary residence of Puglisi and his wife and also a lot on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands”.
The report does not name any of the family members.
Under the plea deal, Puglisi will have to liquidate several personal bank accounts, homes in Palm Harbor and St. John, and an Audi A8 as part of the USF repayment deal.
He also undertakes to cooperate with the authorities in any investigation of other persons who may have been involved and to testify against these persons.
A sentencing date has not been set.