TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The University of South Florida has filed a civil lawsuit against a former accountant and some of his family members in an effort to collect millions of dollars in embezzled funds.
Ralph Puglisi, the former Accounting Manager for University Medical Service Association (UMSA), pleaded guilty last August to one federal count of mail fraud tied to a mailed $18,000 check that helped investigators unravel the six-year, $12.8 million scheme.
UMSA bills, collects and manages medical service fees for USF’s Morsani College of Medicine. Puglisi managed 20 credit cards with “no independent oversight,” according to court documents. Court filings indicate he used two cards to embezzle the loot.
The feds alleged Puglisi laundered millions through the adult social network MyGirlFund in a hustle involving his daughter-in-law and another woman who both worked for the website.
University of Tampa Professor Rob Goodwin, an expert in financial fraud, said the lack of oversight was a horrible set-up.
“One person having the keys to the castle,” Goodwin said. “They are able to spend the money. They’re able to approve the expenditure. And then they’re able to do the journal entries as well.”
The 15-count civil lawsuit names Puglisi, his wife Donna, his ex-wife Ida, his mother Assunta, his brother Robert, his daughter Ann Stueber, his daughter-in-law Francisca Roman Ruth, a friend named Stephanie Sahler and the adult website MyGirlFund.
The defense attorneys either did not respond to inquiries or chose not to comment.
According to court documents, Puglisi used the money to live the life of a multi-millionaire by taking yacht trips, buying property in the Caribbean and also covering expenses of his civil case co-defendants.
The civil lawsuit alleges nearly $650,000 was sent to an LLC owned by Ralph and Donna Puglisi and later used to buy a home in Palm Harbor and property in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
$470,560 was allegedly spent on travel expenses for family and friends. Those jaunts included $52,000 to rent a St. Johns villa and a $43,000 vacation at Disney World.
Puglisi is also accused of paying $30,000 in alimony to his ex-wife with embezzled money while also covering $190,991 in rent for family members and a $21,610 cell phone bill for his brother.
One court filing indicates Puglisi was in default at one point in the civil case for failing to file a response to the complaint that was filed in February in Hillsborough County Court.
Puglisi’s sentencing on the federal charge was rescheduled from Thursday to late September. A filing in that case indicates Puglisi, who has been on home confinement since his plea, is cooperating with federal investigators.
His criminal defense attorney Anthony Rickman said he could not elaborate on how Puglisi is cooperating or who the feds are targeting in their ongoing investigation.