Drugs, sex and a USC dean: What we do and don’t know about Carmen Puliafito – USA TODAY
Reporters from the Times reviewed videos and photos showing Puliafito smoking methamphetamine and taking ecstasy, and spoke to six people who partied with Puliafito in 2015 and 2016.
Their story sheds light on the double life of a renowned ophthalmologist and highly successful fundraiser for the university. But many questions remain unanswered, even after USC released an official response to the story. Here’s what we do and don’t know about Carmen Puliafito’s time at USC and the scandal around him now.
Puliafito’s career highlights
We know that while at USC, Puliafito was a prolific fundraiser and well-regarded doctor. Under his leadership, the medical school rose seven spots in the U.S. News & World Report research rankings, and Puliafito estimated that he brought in $1 billion in donations for USC, according to the Times. Before coming to USC, Puliafito directed the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, and he worked at Tufts University from 1991 to 2001. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and has received several prestigious awards for his work in ophthalmology.
Overdose at a Pasadena hotel
We know that on March 4, 2016, Puliafito was present in a hotel room with 21-year-old Sarah Warren, who overdosed on what she said was the “date-rape drug” gamma-hydroxybutyrate and was sent to the hospital. In a recording of a 911 call made at the time, a man believed to be Puliafito identified himself as a doctor and said he thought his companion had drank too much alcohol.
We don’t know why a police report about the incident was not written at that time. William Boyer, a spokesman for the city of Pasadena, Calif. where the overdose in the hotel took place, says that when the police responded to the 911 call the officer did not immediately file a police report even though methamphetamine was found in the room. Boyer told USA TODAY College that a report should have been filed, but when the police department became aware of the responding officer’s failure to do so, they initiated an administrative review and made sure the officer “understood the rules.”
Drug use and ties to criminals
We know that Warren, who met Puliafito while working as a prostitute, used meth and heroin with him, as the Times saw from watching multiple videos of the two of them doing drugs. We also know that Warren introduced Puliafito to her 17-year-old brother Charles, who received prescriptions for asthma inhalers from Puliafito to soothe his lungs after smoking marijuana and meth.
We know that Puliafito engaged in drug use with individuals with criminal records, including convictions for drug possession. Some of their parties took place in the dean’s office on campus, according to photos the Times reviewed.
We don’t know when Puliafito first started using drugs, or how he obtained them. We also don’t know the extent of his involvement with Charles Warren’s methamphetamine use.
Timing of Puliafito stepping down
We know that a six-minute phone call from an anonymous witness who knew of Puliafito’s drug activity – who also alerted the Times and sparked the investigation – was made to the president of USC, C. L. Max Nikias, 10 days after the overdose, according to the Times.
We don’t know what this witness told USC, or whether the president himself knew of the accusations against Puliafito. “The university is not at liberty to discuss personnel matters, which by law are confidential,” USC spokesman Eddie North-Hager said in a statement. “If the assertions reported in the July 17 Los Angeles Times story are true, we hope that Carmen receives care and treatment that will lead him to a full recovery.”
We know Puliafito resigned from his position as dean in March 2016 – three weeks after the overdose and 10 days after the call to Nikias’ office — citing a desire to explore outside opportunities. A memo sent to students, staff and faculty at the time said he was “return[ing] to academic ophthalmology.” He was named chief of strategic development at the biopharmaceutical company Ophthotech a month later, but was laid off in December after a key drug failed clinical trials, the Times reported.
We don’t know whether any other factors contributed to his resignation, including the accusations made against him by the anonymous witness who contacted the president’s office.
Ongoing relationship with USC
We don’t know whether he continued to see patients even after he resigned, or if the university knew about the accusations against him but continued to keep him on as an active doctor. He was listed as a doctor on the website of the USC Roski Eye Institute until the Los Angeles Times report came out, though now the site now states that he is no longer accepting patients. USC said in a statement that Puliafito is “is currently on leave from his roles at USC, including seeing patients.”
We know Puliafito was kept on the USC faculty even after he left the administration. He is still listed as a professor of ophthalmology on the Keck website.
We don’t know whether he continued to have contact with students. “Following Carmen Puliafito’s resignation as dean of the medical school in March 2016, he was on sabbatical from his faculty position,” the university said in a statement. A news release from April 2016 said he was “on leave” from his position as a professor.
We know his medical license remains up-to-date and is not currently under review. Cassandra Hockenson, a spokeswoman for the Medical Board of California, told USA TODAY College she cannot comment on investigations or complaints but said that if an arrest was made, “we would be notified and take appropriate action.”
We don’t know what’s going to happen next. The university said it is “following all proper procedures to review [Puliafito’s] status in patient care.” But we don’t know if he’s going to remain on the faculty, whether any criminal charges will be filed or what he has been doing since he was laid off from Ophthotech in December 2016.
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