How nearly $13M was embezzled from USF Health without anyone knowing

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It may be shocking that someone could steal a fortune without anyone knowing until the total reached nearly $13 million, six years later.

59-year-old Ralph Puglisi admits embezzling $12.8 million over six years from USF Health when he was the accounting manager for UMSA, the non-profit that handles millions for the university.

Rob Goodwin investigated fraud in the private sector before becoming an accounting instructor at the University of Tampa.

“He probably figured out that it wouldn’t be missed,” Goodwin said when asked how someone could get away with a six-year-long scheme.

While Puglisi admits spending lavishly on home renovations, travel, yacht trips and more, Goodwin said the amount involved is small by percentage.

“Over the six years that this fraud happened, [USF} generated $1.6 billion,” Goodwin said. “So this fraud is less than one percent of their total revenues.”

According to Goodwin, one percent is half the common threshold that would alarm auditors.

Also, significant, the investigation by the firm hired by USF took note of Puglisi’s embezzlement pace.

“In the report, it said he started with smaller amounts and ramped up,” Goodwin said. “So he was definitely testing the waters.”

Neither Puglisi nor his attorney would talk about the way the feds say he “laundered” the money.

“We can’t talk about MyGirlFund.com,” attorney Anthony Rickman said after his client pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.

Goodwin’s theory is funneling millions through other online payment systems would’ve raised red flags with the feds.

“If you’re doing this through Paypal or Venmo or another authorized payment source, they have mandatory reporting requirements for money laundering once you hit a $10,000 mark,” Goodwin said.

MyGirlFund has yet to respond to questions about whether the company has are triggers in place that would’ve flagged what investigators said was $11.5 million in expenditures on the site by Puglisi.

The costliest flaw according to Goodwin was the lack of oversite that gave Puglisi opportunity, including the use of two credit cards for nearly 22,000 transactions totaling more than $11 million. That represents nearly all the money that was embezzled.

“One person having the keys to the castle,” Goodwin said. “They’re able to spend the money. They’re able to approve the expenditure. And then they’re able to do the journal entries as well.”

Investigators said Puglisi falsified those journal entries to cover up the crime.

According to a USF spokesperson, UMSA has since added controls to its system to guard against fraud.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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