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$12.8M stolen, millions sent to adult entertainment site in USF embezzlement case

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Ralph Puglisi had oversight of the credit cards for a billing company that works for USF, and investigators say no one was looking over his shoulder.

The accountant took advantage of the freedom, according to investigators, using university money for yacht trips, home renovations, wedding expenses, and more.

Puglisi, 59, of Palm Harbor, has agreed to plead guilty to embezzling $12.8 million as an accountant for the University of South Florida’s University Medical Services Association (UMSA), a non-profit that assists with the billing, collection, and disbursement of funds generated by USF Health medical faculty.

He was fired last December and his UMSA supervisor and an internal auditor were also terminated for never detecting the scheme that lasted from June 2014 until last September.

Puglisi spent lavishly on family “rent payments, extensive home renovations, travel, chartered yachts,” but the way he cleaned the cash may push the scheme into another realm.

Greenberg Traurig, an investigative firm hired by USF, reported Puglisi paid about $11.5 million to the adult entertainment site (MGF). He then sent credit to the MGF account of his “future daughter in law” who boomeranged 60 percent of the take back to Puglisi and kept the rest. has not responded to a request for comment.

“The defendant made false journal entries creating the illusion that these charges were related to UMSA’s business,” the plea agreement states.

The future daughter in law was not named.

Puglisi is the only one charged at this point but in a letter to USF, Greenberg Traurig indicated the investigation is ongoing, including interviews of current and former UMSA employees with “knowledge of Puglisi’s activities.”

The firm is also looking into another “$1.5 million in suspicious charges” connected to Puglisi, the letter stated.

Puglisi’s attorney Anthony Rickman said his client has “already gone through great lengths to pay restitution.”

“Mr. Puglisi has accepted responsibility,” Rickman said. “And he is cooperating with investigators.”

Records show he sold his Palm Harbor house in July for $600,000 and according to the website Seascape Properties, his Virgin Island’s vacation home identified in the plea agreement has been sold for $345,000.
Puglisi also agreed to liquidate a number of bank accounts and sell his car, but it is unknown if he can approach the $12.8 million he agreed to pay in restitution.

Puglisi was hired in 2006 and according to a document released by USF, a background check by UMSA revealed he was arrested in 1985 for grand larceny in Hernando County but the charge was dismissed later that year.

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