TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Ralph Puglisi, an accounting manager formerly employed by the University of South Florida’s University Medical Services Association has accepted a plea agreement on a felony charge of embezzling millions from the university.
Court records filed in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida in Tampa show that Puglisi entered the guilty plea, facing an indictment of one count of mail fraud, and has waived his right to trial, signing a waiver of indictment.
According to documents obtained by 8 On Your Side Senior Investigator Walt Buteau, Puglisi “did knowingly devise and intend to devise what the court records describe as a scheme and artifice to defraud UMSA and for obtaining money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”
Puglisi hatched a plan to use UMSA credit cards to buy things without permission, for his own benefit and stole millions of dollars.
Documents show that starting in June 2014, Puglisi planned to and then did obtain more than $12 million through the scheme, according to the documents detailing the charge. He also, through the scheme described in the documents, misrepresented, concealed, hid, and caused to be misrepresented, concealed and hidden, actions he took to further the scheme.
On Nov. 6, 2019, court records show that Puglisi “for the purpose of executing the aforementioned scheme and artifice…knowingly caused to be delivered by U.S. Mail…a check in the amount of $18,953.28.” That action violated 18 U.SC. 1341, according to court records.
Puglisi’s plea agreement details some of the charges he made using the credit cards, including “rent payments, extensive home renovations, travel, chartered yachts, and contributions to women affiliated with an interactive adult website.”
According to court records, “the defendant made false journal entries creating the illusion that these charges were related to UMSA’s business.”
All said, Puglisi is ordered to forfeit at least $12.8 million, the amount he’d obtained from committing the offense he was indicted for.
For his charge, Puglisi faces a potential 20-year prison sentence and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, followed by up to three years of supervised release and a special assessment of $100 per felony count.
Responding to the guilty plea, the university released the following statement, in part:
USF is a victim of a serious crime by a person who held a position of trust. The individual responsible is a former employee of UMSA, Ralph Puglisi, who has been charged criminally by the federal government with embezzlement and has agreed to plead guilty. The plea agreement also includes Puglisi’s restitution to the university.
In parallel with USF’s efforts to support law enforcement action and recover stolen funds, USF engaged neutral third-party reviewers, including the USF Office of Internal Audit and consulting firm Protiviti, to conduct a complete review of the matter. The results of this review show that USF is a victim and that this was an isolated, criminal act by Puglisi.
The review found that that Puglisi embezzled approximately $12.8 million from 2014 to 2020. Puglisi was terminated from his position shortly after the theft was discovered. UMSA has also terminated the employment of its director of financing and accounting, who was Puglisi’s immediate supervisor and responsible for oversight of Puglisi’s work, and its internal auditor, who was responsible for UMSA’s internal audit plan and key financial safeguards.Statement from USF on Ralph Puglisi guilty plea
8 On Your Side has reached out to Puglisi’s attorney, Anthony B. Rickman, Esq. for comment on the case, and is awaiting a response.