TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Ralph Puglisi lived a life of luxury while embezzling nearly $13 million from USF over about six years, but his guilty plea is tied to a single check mailed to him from a woman who received a cut of the ill-gotten gains.
Puglisi, 59, of Palm Harbor, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of mail fraud as part of a plea agreement that detailed a scheme that involved stealing USF money to use for vacations, yacht trips, entertainment, and the adult website MyGirlFund.com.
As the accounting manager for UMSA, a non-profit that handles tens of millions in billings for the university, Puglisi had oversight of a number of credit cards that were used to fund his scheme.
During his brief appearance in federal court, Puglisi repeatedly answered, “Yes your honor,” to inquiries from Judge William Jung about the details in the plea deal.
Outside the courtroom, Puglisi did not respond to questions, including one about his decision to send millions to MyGirlFund.com.
His attorney Anthony Rickman said Puglisi could not comment at this time.
“Right now, due to the pending nature of the case and the fact that we haven’t yet gotten through sentencing, I can’t speak to anything related to MyGirlFund.com,” Rickman said.
A report by a private investigator hired by USF states Puglisi charged $11.5 million dollars to the website with some money sent to the account of his future daughter-in-law.
She kept 40 percent and funneled 60 percent back to Puglisi, according to the report.
The plea agreement also references a 40/60 split with a woman connected through the site, but does not indicate whether or not she was Puglisi’s future daughter-in-law.
“The defendant laundered more than $1.3 million dollars through this arrangement,” the agreement said.
It was a check for $18,953 mailed to Puglisi by the woman in November 2019, according to the agreement, the led to the mail fraud charge.
Puglisi’s attorney tells us his client is cooperating with investigators but he did not know if more charges are expected.
“I can’t comment on those things right now. The government is doing what they’re doing,” Rickman said. “But at this point, I can’t make any other statements.”
Puglisi will be on home confinement on a $100,000 signature bond until his sentencing which was not scheduled during the hearing. He faces up to 20 years in prison but a long sentence is unlikely due to a number of factors, including the 59-year-old’s clean criminal history.
According to Rickman, Puglisi has already started paying restitution.